* ConAgra sued for alleged deception
* Eleven consumers fault meat processing procedures
* ConAgra says stands behind Hebrew National brand
By Jonathan Stempel
June 18 ConAgra Foods Inc has been sued
by consumers who contend that hot dogs and other products sold
under its Hebrew National brand are not kosher.
The lawsuit alleges that meat processing services provided
to ConAgra by privately held AER Services Inc fell short of the
standards necessary to label Hebrew National products as kosher.
As a result, they said, ConAgra misled consumers and was able to
charge premium prices.
Eleven individual consumers filed their complaint in May in
Minnesota state court. ConAgra moved the case this month to a
federal court in St. Paul. The lawsuit was reported last week by
American Jewish World, a publication based in Minnesota.
According to the complaint, Omaha, Nebraska-based ConAgra
marks Hebrew National packages with a "Triangle K" symbol, and
represents that the contents are kosher "as defined by the most
stringent Jews who follow Orthodox Jewish law."
But the plaintiffs said in the complaint that AER
supervisors "did little or nothing" to address employee
complaints that the meat processed for ConAgra was non-kosher.
They also said Skokie, Illinois-based AER fired or threatened
retaliation against those who complained.
ConAgra spokeswoman Teresa Paulsen said in a statement on
Monday: "While we can't comment on pending litigation, we stand
behind the quality of Hebrew National and its kosher status."
AER is not a defendant in the lawsuit. "The allegations in
the complaint regarding AER are completely and utterly false,"
Shlomoh Ben-David, AER's president, said in a telephone
interview. "There is no basis for them, and they are without any
ConAgra has long used the slogan "we answer to a higher
authority" to promote Hebrew National products.
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages and an
injunction against further mislabeling. Their lawsuit seeks
class-action status for U.S. purchasers of Hebrew National
products over the last four years, and alleges negligence and
violations of state consumer fraud laws.
"This is an invisible fraud," Hart Robinovitch, a lawyer for
the plaintiffs, said in a phone interview. "How does a consumer
who thinks he is buying kosher meat really know he is buying
kosher meat? It's a very, very difficult thing for a consumer to
detect, unless someone investigates."
Other ConAgra brands include Chef Boyardee, Healthy Choice,
Peter Pan and Reddi-wip, and are not part of the lawsuit.
ConAgra shares closed down 2 cents at $24.95 on the New York
The case is Wallace et al v. ConAgra Foods Inc, U.S.
District Court, District of Minnesota, No. 12-01354.