A leading animal-rights group has lost its court fight to pull the California milk industry’s popular “Happy Cows” television spots over accusations of false advertising.
The California Supreme Court refused Wednesday to review an appeal brought by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which sued to stop the national advertising campaign featuring the talking, laid-back cows and their tag line, “Great Cheese Comes From Happy Cows. Happy Cows Come From California.”
The PETA lawsuit argued the campaign represented false advertising because California dairy cows weren’t as happy as the ads suggested. They described the cows as living in filthy pens, not the lush green fields depicted in commercials, and pumped full of drugs to increase their milk output.
But the state Court of Appeals ruled Jan. 12 that the Unfair Business Practices Act prevented a government entity from being sued for false advertising. The ad campaign is run by the California Milk Advisory Board, a marketing arm of the state Food and Agriculture Department.
PETA officials said they would next consider filing lawsuits to have the ads banned in other states. Last year, the board began running the “Happy Cows” ads in all 50 states. “While the ruling from the California Supreme Court marks the end of a road, the journey to stop these deceptive ads is far from over,” the group said.
The “Happy Cows” ads, part of a five-year-old, $33 million campaign, became a huge hit in California and helped push the state’s cheese industry to first in the nation, said Nancy Fletcher, spokeswoman for the California Milk Advisory Board.
“This appears to be another loss for PETA in their campaign against the California milk industry,” Ms. Fletcher said. “The highest priority of our dairy farmers is the health and comfort of their cows. They take great pride in how well they treat their cows.”
Group officials chided the ruling, saying the state shouldn’t have “blanket immunity from laws designed to protect consumers.”
“It’s still completely boggling my mind that consumers have no protection against the government,” PETA spokeswoman Veronica Van Hof said.
The colorful television spots show the cows cracking wise about earthquakes, making fun of other farm animals, and playing doorbell ditch. A Web site, RealCaliforniaCheese.com, sells merchandise such as “Happy Cows” stuffed animals and T-shirts.
PETA has countered with its own Web site, UnhappyCows.com, which features a video depicting the living conditions of California dairy cows. The organization also is running an Internet poll asking California residents “whether they think the government should be allowed to lie to Californians in advertising.”
“If the California milk industry treated dogs or cats the way it treats cows, everyone involved would be prosecuted for cruelty to animals,” said Bruce Friedrich, PETA director of vegan campaigns.
Not so, Ms. Fletcher said. “Many of our family farms have free stalls, misters and fans to keep the cows comfortable,” she said. “They do everything they can. Cow comfort is a high priority for our dairy farmers.”