American Egg Board facing investigation over Hampton Creek scandal

American Egg Board facing investigation over Hampton Creek scandal

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating the activities of the American Egg Board after emails came to light suggesting the board's chief executive was working to directly undermine egg-free spread producer Hampton Creek.  

According to the emails, made public under Freedom of Information requests, AEB chief executive Joanne Ivy was trying to get Hampton Creek's product, Just Mayo, delisted from Whole Foods Market. 

A spokesperson for the USDA told just-food the body is responsible for overseeing all research and promotion programmes, including the AEB. The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) carries out the "day-to-day oversight" of boards, "ensuring fiscal accountability, program integrity, and fair treatment of participating stakeholders", the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson continued: "While AMS approves a wealth of board materials and communications, AMS does not pre-approve the content of every email of a board member or board staff member, nor are these individuals USDA employees.
 
"AMS is conducting a thorough administrative review of issues involving the American Egg Board. This involves a substantial amount of material, and while AMS expects to complete the review in an expeditious manner, a complete review will take some time."

Ivy, who was due to leave the AEB in December, stepped down from her post. The USDA would not confirm if her departure was lined to the scandal. "AMS will not comment on personnel matters involving the Board," the spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson was also quick to stress that while the USDA supports the promotion of US agricultural products it "does not condone any efforts to limit competing products in commerce". 

The AEB did not respond to requests for comment. 

It is not the first time that Hampton Creek's product has attracted criticism. Unilever launched a lawsuit, which has since been withdrawn, which claimed under "federal regulations, common dictionary definitions - and as consumers understand it - mayonnaise or mayo is a product that contains eggs". It added Just Mayo "does not perform like real mayonnaise" nor does it "taste of real mayonnaise" - and said the brand was "stealing market share from Hellmann's".