Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick is calling for Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Inspector General to investigate the USDA following the release of a series of emails revealing that the USDA-appointed American Egg Board has been waging a calculated campaign against Tetrick's company.
AEB attempted to have Hampton Creek's Just Mayo products removed from Whole Foods and advised Unilever on how to proceed with its false advertising lawsuit against the startup that has since been dropped, according to The Guardian.
Members of AEB even joked about putting a hit on Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick. The revelations came from emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by an FOIA expert at MIT and the expert's attorney. Tetrick said his company did not solicit the request but that the FOIA expert, Ryan Shapiro, undertook the request of his own accord and passed the documents along.
“This is a USDA-controlled board that is completely out of control. It's the responsibility of the USDA to rein it in,” says Tetrick.
He says he does not think the recent revelations of animosity have any bearing on the Food and Drug Administration’s recent warning that the food startup should change the name of its flagship product Just Mayo.
“I don't believe the FDA was influenced here at all,” Tetrick tells Inc. in an email.
The documents released through FOIA show that a supervisor at the Department of Agriculture advised retiring AEB CEO Joanne Ivy contact the FDA directly with concerns about Just Mayo.
The FDA in August sent Hampton Creek a warning letter saying, among other things, that the company would need to change the name of its eggless Just Mayo products because they do not fit the definition of mayonnaise. Tetrick has said the company does not plan to change the product’s name.
FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Dooren says she cannot disclose who has complained to the agency about Hampton Creek, but acknowledges that FDA received a complaint in April 2014. She emphasizes that the FDA’s warning letter has to do with the definition of mayonnaise per FDA regulations.
“Our warning letter still stands,” and will continue to go through the FDA’s warning letter process, she says.
The controversy with AEB, a marketing board perhaps best known for its “Incredible, Edible Egg” slogan, comes at a time when the startup has faced allegations of bad science and ethics in addition to the challenges of its labeling practices by the FDA.
The AEB emails show that the board views the Khosla Ventures-backed startup as a force to contend with. Hampton Creek has recently signed deals with major companies in the catering and fast food sectors.
AEB chief executive Ivy told an executive at public relations firm Edelman to keep an eye on the startup, according to The Guardian. Ivy reported suggested in an email that it “would be a good idea if Edelman looked at this product as a crisis and major threat to the future of the egg product business.”