A series of emails between executives at the American Egg Board (AEB) and the US Department of Agriculture reveal an extensive, illegal plan to take down Hampton Creek, the vegan company behind egg-less mayonnaise product Just Mayo. In a 2013 email to her colleagues, AEB CEO Joanne Ivy identified Beyond Eggs (Hampton Creek’s first vegan product) as a “major threat” and asked, “What are we doing at AEB with regard to this competing product?? We need to have an answer!”
The response was to disparage Hampton Creek in several ways: in addition to paying $43,000 to a crisis management firm to design a plan to hinder Hampton Creek’s success—namely through paying influential bloggers to plant USDA-approved egg endorsements and strategic letters sent to The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post—the AEB paid contractor Anthony Zoletzzi an undisclosed sum to keep Hampton Creek off shelves at Whole Foods Market, stating, “Imagine the PR buzz … if Whole Foods was on our side.” Additionally, members of the egg industry threatened via email to put a “hit” on Hampton Creek founder Josh Tetrick. One email stated, “Do you want me to contact some of my old buddies from Brooklyn to pay Mr. Tetrick a visit?”
In 2014, Unilever—the makers of Best Foods mayonnaise—filed suit against Hampton Creek for allegations that Just Mayo’s label was misleading because of the product’s lack of eggs. While the AEB acknowledged they could not publically back Unilever’s suit, in a 2014 email, Ivy stated that she spoke with the counsel for Unilever and advised him to “make sure the FDA is aware.” If they weren’t, she said, “Maybe they need to be pushed.” On August 12, the FDA issued a warning to Hampton Creek stating that the company was in violation of regulations related to the identity of mayonnaise, stating that the product did not contain eggs and was therefore misleading to consumers. Controversy arose over the FDA’s labeling regulations and the intent of the agency’s actions toward Hampton Creek was publically scrutinized.
The various communications released today and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act prove that the AEB (in conjunction with the USDA) is in violation of five federal laws enacted to protect unfair competition, misappropriation of funds, and withholding of information.