- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Everyone agrees that the “Happy Cows,” the wisecracking stars of the California Milk Advisory Board’s popular advertising campaign, are a little cheesy.

But officials at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals say the ads are worse than that: They are examples of false advertising. The organization filed an appeal Tuesday in its lawsuit claiming that real dairy cows aren’t nearly as happy as those in the ads.

In March, Superior Court Judge David Garcia dismissed the case, ruling that the state government is exempt from the false-advertising laws that apply to private industry. The appeal argues that state agencies should be subject to those same laws.

“If the position is that the government can lie with impunity, then the position needs to be changed,” said Matthew Penzer, PETA legal counsel, who filed the appeal in state Superior Court in San Francisco.

He argued that the California Milk Advisory Board, which operates under the state Food and Agriculture Department, should be viewed no differently from a private enterprise. The board has run the whimsical radio and television ads for two years with the slogan, “Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California.”

“When the government acts in the exact same way as private industry, there’s no justification for not holding them to the same laws,” said Mr. Penzer. “It’s absurd.”

PETA’s beef with the board stems from the television ads depicting the cows as the denizens of lush, grassy pastures. In reality, he said, dairy cows aren’t happy because they live in muddy, squalid yards, where they are forced to produce unnaturally high quantities of milk through genetic and chemical intervention.

Milk board officials argue that the ads clearly are intended to be humorous, not strictly realistic. For example, the Happy Cows talk, sing, tell jokes and kick a rooster to activate the “snooze alarm.”

In one spot, two cows are drinking from a trough when an earthquake hits. “Nice foot massage,” says one.

“What’s important to the California Milk Advisory Board is the fact that California consumers love the award-winning ‘Happy Cows’ commercials,” the board said in a statement. “The TV advertising playfully promotes the variety of cheese that is produced by the state’s dairy families and their very well cared for cows.”

Since the ads began running two years ago, California has grown closer to overtaking Wisconsin as the nation’s leading cheese producer. The popular ads also have spawned a merchandise line that includes plush toys, calendars and T-shirts that say, “So much grass, so little time.”

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