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Unilever's Ben & Jerry's prevails in 'happy cows' lawsuit

Jonathan Stempel

By Jonathan Stempel

May 7 (Reuters) - Ben & Jerry's won the dismissal on Thursday of a lawsuit by an environmental advocate who claimed the company deceived consumers by saying it used milk and cream from "happy cows" on "Caring Dairy" farms to make its premium ice cream.

U.S. District Judge Christine Reiss rejected James Ehlers' claim in the proposed class action that Ben & Jerry's misleading marketing enabled it to burnish its socially conscious image and charge higher prices for its ice cream, even though more than half the milk and cream was mass-produced.

Reiss said Ben & Jerry's "happy cows" claim was merely an opinion, and that Ehlers did not show that reasonable consumers would buy its ice cream solely because the company said on its website it used ingredients from "Caring Dairy" farms.

The Burlington, Vermont-based judge also said Ehlers could not seek injunctive relief, because Ben & Jerry's has removed "happy cows" from its packaging and updated a web page for the Caring Dairy program.

Ben & Jerry's was founded in 1978 in a renovated gas station. It has been a unit of Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company Unilever Plc since 2000.

Lawyers for Ehlers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Unilever and its lawyers did not immediately respond to similar requests. Reiss said Ehlers may file an amended complaint if he wishes.

Ehlers lost in the Democratic primary to become Vermont's governor in 2018.

The case is Ehlers v Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc et al, U.S. District Court, District of Vermont, No. 19-00194. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)