Chicken titan Perdue proudly labels select birds as "humanely raised." But the Humane Society says that claim is false, and it intends to prove it in a class action lawsuit it filed last week.

The suit, filed in a New Jersey state court, is being brought on behalf of Nadine Hemy, who bought a Perdue Harvestland chicken at a local BJ's Wholesale Club. Perdue markets its Harvestland birds as "purely all-natural" and "humanely raised."

According to the suit, Perdue bases its standards on guidelines issued by the National Chicken Council, the trade association that represents the chicken industry. Under those standards, the suit says, chickens can be deprived of food and water during transport; raised in dark conditions; and hung upside down just before they are slaughtered.

"Perdue's 'Humanely Raised' chickens are not treated humanely or differently from Perdue's other chickens and are not treated in any material respects differently from chicks of other major producers," the complaint alleges.

Words don't match actions, HS lawyer says

Jonathan Lovvorn, the Humane Society's vice president and chief counsel, said in a statement that Perdue is "exploiting the dramatic growth of consumer demand for improved animal welfare for their own profit."

"Rather than implementing humane reforms, Perdue has simply slapped 'humanely raised' stickers on its factory farmed products, hoping consumers won't know the difference," Lovvorn said.

The complaint contends that Perdue's "humanely raised" label violates New Jersey's consumer fraud law. Hemy is seeking an injunction barring the company from continuing to use the label, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

Perdue fires back

In a statement, Perdue defended its "humanely raised" label and explicitly took on the suit's allegations regarding its treatment of its chickens.

"Our chickens are raised cage-free on family farms in temperature-controlled housing with a continuous flow of fresh air, and they remain free to move about, with constant access to food and water,” the company said.

On Perdue's Harvestland website -- which is appropriately named PurelyAllNatural.com -- the company boasts that the birds are "free of any additives or preservatives. And they're raised in strict accordance with best practices for humane treatment."

"At Harvestland, we've raised the bar on what 'all-natural' food means," the site continues. "Lots of labels may 'say' it, but most fall way short of what we believe in deeply."

This isn't the first time that Perdue has been accused of false advertising. In April, the company settled a suit contending that it falsely claimed its chickens are "raised without antibiotics." That suit stemmed from a June 2008 order by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that Tyson remove the claim from its birds. The USDA said in a statement that it "found that [Tyson] routinely used the antibiotic Gentamicin to prevent illness and death in chicks."