An animal rights group Tuesday renewed its campaign against the "happy cows" promotions by the California Milk Advisory Board.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, claimed the Modesto-based board misleads consumers by depicting cows in lush pastures.
The group said the cows live mostly in manure-filled dirt lots and suffer udder infections because of a lack of veterinary care.
"If the CMAB is to be believed, cows in the dairy industry are free to kick up their heels in rolling green fields with a handful of their peers," said Tracy Reiman, executive vice president of the Virginia-based group, in a news release.
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"The truth is that conditions commonly found on California's factory dairy farms have been scientifically proven to cause cows extreme physical pain and mental distress."
A spokeswoman for the board said she could not comment because she had not seen the complaint.
The board's Web site includes a brochure on how dairy farmers care for their cows: The animals spend most of their time in stalls with straw, almond hulls or other material for bedding. Manure is flushed out regularly. Farmers are often in contact with veterinarians.
"Because dairy herd performance reflects the quality of care received at every stage of the production cycle, dairy farmers throughout the state rely on proven best management practices to maintain the health and welfare of their dairy cows," the brochure says.
The promotions, which include television and online ads, are credited with boosting demand for dairy products, notably those with the "Real California Cheese" seal.
PETA filed a similar complaint with the FTC in 2002, but the agency did not act on it. The new complaint is needed because conditions have gotten even worse on the farms, said Amanda Fortino of the group's campaigns division.
PETA also has sued over the issue. Lower courts ruled that the milk board is not subject to unfair advertising laws because it is supervised by a state agency, the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
The state Supreme Court declined to hear the case in 2005.