Red Lobster Sued by California Consumers Over Allegedly False Sustainability Claims

Sustainability is a major focus for companies as they seek to build ties with customers that value sound environmental stewardship. Companies are advertising that their products are responsible and sustainable as a way to gain new business and make themselves appear to be keeping up with the times. However, they must be very careful with how they classify their products because it could get them in trouble for false advertising. This is what happened to Red Lobster, which now faces a class action lawsuit filed by California customers, claiming that the company falsely labeled its Maine lobster and other seafood products as sustainable.

Sustainability False Advertising Lawsuits Will Be a Growing Area

This is going to be a growing area of lawsuits as companies seek to cater to a new business dynamic. Already, Burger King has faced a lawsuit over how and labeled and sold its Impossible Burger. It has been accused of labeling its product as vegan-friendly when it is contact with some of the same kitchen equipment as meat products. You can expect that other restaurants will be facing the same claims in the very near future.

In this particular lawsuit, Red Lobster has been trying to assuage customers' concerns over sustainability in fishing. Global overfishing has threatened the stocks of everything from tuna to lobster. Red Lobster has always been known for its Maine lobster. It is the company's flasgship product and the reason why many customers walk in the door. However, some customers have been moving away from meat and fish products because of their own environmental concerns. Companies have been trying to win these customers back and bring in new ones by showing that eating their food will have no impact on the environment.

This lawsuit stems from practices of the sources that Red Lobster uses to source its lobster. The company does not raise its own lobster, but does business with local Maine companies as its vendors. Red Lobster makes its own promises about the practices of these companies. It tells customers that it does business with companies that use sustainable and responsible fishing practices. However, the plaintiffs claim something entirely different.

The plaintiffs focus on the companies with which Red Lobster does business. Its main source for lobster is the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery. This company has run into serious problems of its own. In 2020, it lost its certification over some of its fishing practices. The company was accused of using fishing practices that endangered whales. In addition, the plaintiffs have also alleged that Red Lobster sources shrimp from farmers that do not use "the highest environmental or animal welfare standards."

Overseas Shrimp Farmers Are Alleged to Use Inhumane Practices

The lawsuit also takes aim at how Red Lobster obtains its seafood overseas. Red Lobster sources its shrimp from India and China, and the plaintiffs try to call attention to the conditions there. Specifically, farmers in those countries are known to farm shrimp in high-density ponds that are considered inhumane to the shrimp. In addition, the plaintiffs allege that the farms in these countries overuse antibiotics to cut down on disease. They may also use disinfectant chemicals that could harm the shrimp.

For their part, Red Lobster's vendors continue to maintain that they meet the highest environmental standards. The Gulf of Maine lobster fishery still continues to tout on its website that it is responsible and sells sustainable fish. Maine lobster producers claim that they have drastically changed how they work in the past two decades and have revolutionized their practices. Red Lobster maintains that its "Seafood with Standards" program is working and does not harm the environment or result in overfishing.

Seafood vendors have been under legal attack recently for this exact same reason. The discount grocery store chain Aldi has also been sued for how it markets its seafood products. Salmon seller Mowi also paid roughly $1.3 million to settle claims that its salmon was responsibly sourced. Since these lawsuits appear to be viable, one can expect many more of them in the future, especially as companies try to engender goodwill among the part of the population that values sustainable practices. Practically every company that makes these claims can expect scrutiny in the future. Companies such as Seafood Watch will drill down on sustainability claims with plaintiffs' attorneys looking closely at their reports in the hopes of filing lawsuits.

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