The Tillamook County Creamery Association, an Oregon-based farmers’ co-op, is facing accusations of misleading its customers with deceptive marketing campaigns. 

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, a national animal rights organization, filed a proposed class action lawsuit against the mega-dairy Monday, accusing the association of tricking consumers into thinking their products are sourced from small, local dairies within Tillamook County. 

In reality, the suit says more than two-thirds of the co-op’s milk comes from one massive farm in Eastern Oregon. 

A Tillamook Dairy milk truck driver prepares to leave after delivering two tanker truck loads of milk to Alpenrose Dairy in Beaverton, Ore.,

A Tillamook Dairy milk truck driver prepares to leave after delivering two tanker truck loads of milk to Alpenrose Dairy in Beaverton, Ore.,

Don Ryan/AP

Threemile Canyon Farms’ 25,000 dairy cow complex is the most industrialized in the country, according to defense fund attorneys. The farm boasts robotic carousels that allow for round-the-clock milking and computerized tracking of every calf. The dairy produces more than 1.4 million pounds of milk each day, according to the Threemile website.

ALDF lawyers say the farm isn’t just high-tech, but borders on inhumane. The complaint alleges cows are kept in industrial warehouses “where they stand on concrete or in their own waste” and are banned from grazing. The filing also cites federal records showing milk from the farm has often come out of infected udders. 

Representatives for Threemile Canyon Farms are reviewing the lawsuit. Tillamook released a statement saying the co-op is proud of its 20-year relationship with Threemile.

“Our farmer-owners and suppliers all take good care of their animals not only because it is their livelihood, but because it is the right thing to do,” the statement reads. “The size of the farm does not dictate the quality of care.”  

But ALDF attorneys say Tillamook’s advertising has intentionally obfuscated that a massive industrial farm counts itself as a co-op member.

“If you take a look at their uniform marketing campaign, you see things like cows on rolling green hills in Tillamook County in red barns, and kids helping take care of really small herds of dairy cows,” says Amanda Howell, a staff attorney at the legal defense fund, who is assisting with the suit. “That is incredibly misleading.” 

Howell says the legal fund commissioned a survey of a little more than 1,000 consumers spread across Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. The majority believed Tillamook purchased its dairy from small-scale family farms.

The suit accuses the dairy company of making money through misrepresentation. It cites a 2017 interview in which Tillamook’s CEO Patrick Criteser said revenues grew by 70% after the launch of their “Dairy Done Right” campaign. 

Customers “purchase [Tillamook] to avoid industrialized finding, to avoid factory farms when Tillamook represents the epitome of factory farms,” says Howell. 

The class action suit is filed on behalf of four plaintiffs who purchased Tillamook dairy products from supermarkets. All told legal fund attorneys they had been willing to pay extra for products from small dairies that they believed treated animals humanely. All thought Tillamook “aligned with [their] values.” 

Had they known that much of their cheese, butter, ice cream, sour cream, and yogurt was sourced from a large factory farm, all said that they would either have paid less for it — or never bought it in the first place.

Howell says the defense fund is currently seeking an injunction that will force Tillamook to change its marketing style. In one month, they plan to amend the lawsuit allowing for claims for damages.