The only people here with a realistic beef... are the hardworking California dairy farmers who are forced to pay the roughly $17 million price tag of the "Happy Cows" campaign. Boo-Hoo, Moo-Moo

Most would agree that cows are by and large pretty happy creatures, slightly less jovial than the common tree squirrel, but seemingly content with their lot in life.

They stand. They lie. They chew. They swat. They get milked. They get eaten. 'Nuff said.

Au contraire, say the activists cum circus freaks at PETA, who have whipped themselves into a froth (sorry, couldn't resist) and are suing the San Francisco-based Milk Advisory Board over television ads that depict dairy cows in a blissful state. According to PETA, our bovine friends are not happy at all. They're actually, well, very sad.

The Milk Advisory Board, creators of the national "Got Milk" campaign, have been running television ads in California and neighboring states showing digitally animated cows frolicking in lush green spacious pastures, chatting about the benefits of living in California. The tag line: "Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California."

In a complaint filed last week in San Francisco Superior Court, PETA is seeking a permanent injunction to stop what it's calling "deceptive advertising practices" and "false representations" made by the California dairy industry in its "Happy Cows" ads.

"[California's dairy cows] routinely spend their lives in 'dry' lots of grassless dirt (which becomes and remains mud throughout some months of the year), in sharp contrast to the 'fictional,' idyllic setting of the ads," according to PETA. Yeah, and we're pretty sure half-naked twins aren't going to jump from the closet next time we crack a Coors Light but we're not suing anybody.

The only people here with a realistic beef (oops, did it again) are the hardworking California dairy farmers who are forced to pay the roughly $17 million price tag of the "Happy Cows" campaign through mandatory assessments on milk produced in that state. With falling dairy prices and rising production costs, it's the dairy farmers who are unhappy, not the cows. (For more on the fight over mandatory agricultural promotional programs, click here).

PETA's lawsuit has been joined by John Robbins, scion of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire. Mr. Robbins turned his back on the company more than 30 years ago in order to "live a life more in tune with my values." Come on John, serving up 31 flavors to millions of smiling faces can't be all that bad, although you probably didn't get to storm a Victoria's Secret runway.

PETA's legal/PR strategy closely mirrors that of California anti-business activist Marc Kasky, whose much-publicized lawsuit against Nike, Inc., is up for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Acting as a "private attorney general," Kasky filed a claim in state court — without having to show any personal harm — alleging Nike's public relations campaign in response to allegations against its overseas labor practices contained false or misleading statements. (For more on the suit against Nike, click here).

Kasky, PETA and their ilk are exploiting a series of California statutes known collectively as the "Unfair Competition Law" (UCL). Section 17200 of the UCL prohibits any "unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice" and any "unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising." While intended to protect both consumers and competition, the UCL, in combination with a "private attorney general" action, have become a runaway train of liberal activism as state courts have broadly defined what constitutes an "unfair business practice" and have applied the statutes to almost any context, including, perhaps, animated cows.

In the spirit of the season, let's join together in singing: "All we want for Christmas is some legal reform!"

December 19, 2002
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