Hormel admits Natural Choice meats aren't very natural, lawsuit reveals

Undercover footage from a Hormel supplier played like something from the Klaus Barbie School of Agriculture.

Undercover footage from a Hormel supplier played like something from the Klaus Barbie School of Agriculture. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Hormel's Natural Choice meats come in the kind of rustic, earth-toned packaging designed to make consumers think they're buying from a farm in a Grant Wood painting, not a billion-dollar corporation.

But the “natural” part of the equation is only true if you consider antibiotics and growth hormones among the wholesome elements of nature, the Austin, Minnesota company admitted in a lawsuit filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The ALDF sued, as lawyer David Muraskin told Bloomberg, over the ag giant's “massive attempt to manipulate and dupe the consumer to purchase something they have no intention to purchase.” Hormel, it seems, is using its own definition of “natural,” which isn't within shouting distance of the version commonly held by shoppers.

In court filings, an executive confessed that the pigs used for Spam – the company's famed simulated meat substance – are the same ones used for Natural Choice. They're raised factory farm style, using antibiotics and growth hormones, with the pigs rarely seeing the sunshine. The same applies to Hormel's beef.

There also appears to be nothing natural about the pigs' living conditions.

Three years ago, the ALDF obtained undercover footage from a Nebraska hog farm owned by Maschhoffs, the nation's third largest pork producer and a major supplier to Hormel. The video plays like something from the Klaus Barbie School of Agriculture:

Given the evidence, one might assume the ALDF had a slam-dunk case. Yet the federal government also has a distinctly different view of natural than the rest of the country. Perhaps that's because Big Ag bought $97 million worth of politicians in the last elections alone.

Under Department of Agriculture rules, meat and poultry can be considered “natural” if it doesn't contain artificial ingredients and hasn't been processed. Which means that pumping livestock full of chemicals – or raising it in medieval conditions – is still legally "natural." A federal court in D.C. had no choice but to dismiss the case.

In a statement, Hormel said that “our position has always been that Hormel Natural Choice products are produced, labeled, and marketed in conformance with all applicable laws and regulations.”

You will notice that statement offers no defense for its conformity with nature.