Consumer Files Mislabeling Case Against Sargento Over Antibiotic-Free Cheeses

California resident Quynh Phan filed a class-action complaint Monday, seeking equitable relief  and damages against defendant Sargento Foods Inc. regarding its ostensibly deceptive labeling, marketing, and sale of more than three dozen dairy cheese products. The Northern District of California lawsuit claims that Sargento dupes consumers into believing that its cheeses are made without the use of antibiotics, when in reality, they use milk from cows that are treated with antibiotics. Thus, the plaintiff argues, the “No Antibiotics” labels affixed to packages mislead consumers because some cheeses do contain antibiotics.

According to the plaintiff, this is problematic for the reasonable consumer, who is aware of antibiotic resistance, which is described as “the ability of germs to defeat the drugs designed to kill them.” Antibiotic resistance has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic due to antibiotics’ apparent widespread use to treat virus victims, the complaint states. In turn, the filing argues that consumers are willing to pay more for products like Sargento’s “Antibiotic Free” cheeses to avoid ingesting antibiotic residue and building antibiotic resistance.

The complaint further explains that antibiotics are replete in factory-style dairy operations such as Sargento’s because the cows, confined to indoor spaces, suffer teat injuries caused by milking machines, the unintended consequences of genetic selection for high milk yield animals, and unsanitary conditions. These downfalls reportedly cause clinical mastitis in dairy cows, a bacterial infection treated with antibiotics.

As proof, the plaintiff claimsed that Sargento sources milk from dairy farms that treat their animals with antibiotics. Further, the filing points to an independent laboratory test conducted in July that found detectable levels of the antibiotic sulfamethazine in Sargento’s Mild Cheddar sliced cheese product, notwithstanding its “No Antibiotics” label.

The consumer claimed that through its deceptive practices, Sargento has violated various state consumer protection and business laws. The complaint asks the court to certify both a nationwide class of purchasers who bought Sargento’s “No Antibiotic” cheese products within the applicable statute of limitations, and a multi-state subclass of purchasers from Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, and New York.

The plaintiff requests declaratory and injunctive relief halting Sargento’s “unlawful and deceptive acts,” in addition to damages as provided by state statutes.

The plaintiff is represented by Richman Law and Policy.