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My profile on Vienna Beef veep Bob Schwartz a few weeks back prompted a representative of a local law firm to point out that the venerable hot dog concern has just settled a class-action lawsuit accusing it of falsely advertising its natural-casing hot dogs as "100% beef" or "pure beef." Seems that a handful of hot dog eaters who keep kosher (or maybe not--the complaint isn't explicitly clear) discovered that Vienna uses sheep casings and sometimes hog casings on some of its sausages. Lance A. Raphael and the Consumer Advocacy Center to the rescue. The Chicago firm filed a suit accusing Vienna of "misleading advertising and marketing of its 'natural casing' products," and in July Vienna settled.
The punishment? Vienna now must disclose what the casings are made from, take down any old signs and posters claiming pure beef, and are on the hook for $300,000. Aggrieved parties who want a piece of that can submit a claim for $3 for every "Natural Casing Product" consumed since July 2003. Who's eligible?
"All consumers residing in the United States (including the District of Columbia, territories and possessions) who have consumed and/or purchased any Vienna Beef Natural Casing Products and a) did not know that the casing on the Natural Casing Product consisted of pork/hog or sheep intestine and b) would not have consumed and/or purchased the National Casing Product if they had known the product’s casing consisted of pork/hog or sheep intestine."
Claimants must consult their meticulously detailed dog logs and provide the quantity, location, and approximate date of purchase of the offending sausages.
Vienna president Howard Eirinberg wouldn't tell me why they settled, but he did have this to say:
"Vienna Beef has resolved the lawsuit about its natural-casing products. Nonetheless, because our customers are our first and foremost concern, and in the event someone could have misunderstood the nature of our products, we have modified our Web site and marketing information to make Vienna Beef’s product content even more clear."
CAC, for its part, quoted Pulp Fiction to support evidence that some people have strong feelings about pork avoidance.