Lawsuit accuses Gorton’s of ‘greenwashing’ its tilapia | News

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GLOUCESTER — A new lawsuit is accusing Gloucester-based Gorton’s of misleading consumers by claiming its tilapia is “sustainably sourced” on packaging. 

In fact, the suit alleges, the tilapia comes from industrial fish farms, many in China, where the fish are raised in inhumane and environmentally destructive conditions, including being fed antibiotics and feed that contains a potentially harmful preservative.  

The suit, which is seeking to be designated as a class action, was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Boston. It seeks at least $5 million in damages, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs, and an end to what it says is misleading labeling. 

It’s one of several recent lawsuits filed by a New York firm, Richmond Law and Policy, that specializes in so-called “greenwashing” cases, challenging claims by manufacturers and food producers that use terms like “sustainable,” “responsibly,” “ethically” or “thoughtfully” — terms that have no legal definition but that can lead consumers to believe that they are making a more environmental, humane or healthy choice when they purchase the products. 

The firm has also filed suits against companies like Tyson, Cargill, and Red Lobster, which claimed on its menu it was serving “seafood with standards.” 

Gorton’s, which is now owned by Japanese seafood conglomerate Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Ltd., has not yet filed a response to the suit. A message left with Gorton’s corporate office on Friday, but no one had responded by Friday afternoon to a request for comment. 

“Gorton’s claims about sustainability lead consumers to believe that the products are ‘sustainably sourced,'” the suit says. “Consumer research demonstrates that claims like Gorton’s suggest to consumers that the tilapia is sustainably sourced in accordance with high environmental and animal welfare standards.”

“In reality, the products are made from tilapia who are industrially farmed using unsustainable practices that are environmentally destructive and inhumane,” the complaint says. 

“Thus, Gorton’s marketing — which states that the products are sustainable — is false and misleading to consumers,” the complaint alleges.

The named plaintiffs in the case are Jeffrey Spindel of New York and Kevin McCarthy of California, who say they continued to purchase Gorton’s tilapia because they believed that it was worth the additional cost for an environmentally-sustainable product. 

The complaint includes images of packaging with the “sustainably sourced” claim. 

In a “frequently asked questions” section of the Gorton’s website, Gorton’s does acknowledge that some of its products are farm-raised.

“We also procure farm-raised aquaculture seafood, including tilapia and shrimp, from various countries, including Ecuador, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and India,” the company says on its website. 

Most of the supply of tilapia in the United States comes from aquaculture farming in China, other parts of Asia, and Central and South America, according to multiple sources. 

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