A government-supervised group representing the egg industry overstepped its authority by waging a two-year “Crisis” campaign to halt the growth of a San Francisco vegan mayonnaise startup, joking about putting “a hit” on its CEO and deleting emails in an apparent attempt to cover its tracks, a federal investigation has found.
The investigation, sparked by documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by an Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher and his Washington attorney, reveals how the American Egg Board and the $7-billion egg industry perceived Just Mayo, an egg-less mayonnaise, to be a threat – and the measures it took to try to crush its manufacturer, now called Hampton Creek.
The American Egg Board, an industry-funded promotion group overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s marketing branch, spent at least $59,500 to counter the product’s publicity advances, including hiring a top-tier Chicago public relations firm to plant “USDA approved” pro-egg messaging with bloggers the firm considered “Influential,” according to investigation documents.
The activities appear to have pushed Egg Board CEO Joanne Ivy into early retirement last year, according to the investigation documents, posted late Thursday on the USDA website.
Investigators concluded that efforts to monitor and undermine a specific company and its products exceeded the 1976 bylaws that govern the 18-member board, which is appointed by the secretary of Agriculture and uses the$20 million in annual fees it collects from large-scale producers to support research and promote the egg industry.
In an email under the subject “Beyond Eggs,” Ivy suggested that the company should look at the upstart company as “a crisis and major threat to the future of the egg products industry.”
The investigation found no evidence to support Tetrick’s allegation that the board tried to influence that inquiry, although e
mails show that an official with the marketing service suggested forwarding the board’s concerns about labeling to the FDA. Ivy replied, “Okay. Let’s do it,” but expressed unspecified“Concerns” that needed further discussion.
As reported by the LA times, read the full story here.