Since most of this week in Washington is already shaping up to be a festival of the ridiculous, we may as well toss a few more logs on the bonfire. Up in Vermont, Ben & Jerry’s, the famously liberal ice cream company, is being taken to court over fraudulent advertising, along with its parent company, Unilever. But this suit has nothing to do with the quality or safety of their product. An environmentalist is suing them because of their advertisements claiming that their creamy products are made from milk from “happy cows.” Not so, says the plaintiff! Apparently, many of the cows are simply miserable. (CBS News)

Ben & Jerry’s and parent company Unilever are being sued for false advertising by an environmental advocate who claims the milk and cream used to make flavors like Phish Food are deceptively marketed as coming from “happy cows.”

In a complaint filed Oct. 31 in federal court in Burlington, Vermont, where Ben & Jerry’s was founded, environmental advocate James Ehlers accuses the company and Unilever of deceiving consumers who buy the ice cream because of its pastoral and progessive image.

“During the past several years, Unilever has breached consumer trust by representing the Ben & Jerry’s Products as being made with milk and cream sourced exclusively from “happy cows” on Vermont dairies that participate in a special, humane “Caring Dairy” program,” the lawsuit claims.

According to the complaint, less than half of the milk used by the company actually comes from the so-called “Caring Dairy” farms. The majority is supplied by typical dairy farms operating under normal mass production technology.

So is it true? That’s tough to say. USA Today looked into the question and found that the Caring Dairy program is indeed real. In order to qualify, farms have to follow certain regulations for how the cows are raised and what sort of environmental “carbon footprint” the operation has. But it’s not all that large, with only 65 farms in the Netherlands and the United States qualifying.

Even if Ben & Jerry’s had cornered the market on all of them, they probably wouldn’t produce enough milk to meet their needs. The company claims they “hope” to work with more farms like these going forward, but it certainly sounds as if they’re not using 100% “happy cow” milk. So maybe the plaintiff is correct.

But let’s just say that he is. So what? What harm has been done to the consumer because of this? Nobody is claiming that the factory farm milk is dangerous or even worse in quality. The advertising itself may be somewhat “deceptive” but could you honestly tell the difference if you had a pint each of their products made with milk from the two different types of farms?

I suppose there might be an argument made here about the prices being charged. Ben & Jerry’s costs, on average, four times more than chain brands like Breyers. If people are paying a premium based on their desire to support a more environmentally friendly product, perhaps a court would be sympathetic to that argument. But are the cows truly any more “happy” living on one of these caring farms? Perhaps one of them will be called to testify in court. They can probably find an animal psychic to translate while Bossie is on the stand.