Yum Brands’ KFC unit said Monday it had sued three companies in China, alleging they spread false rumors on social media about its products, including that its chickens have eight legs.
Yum, which has been fighting to regain customers lost as a result of two recent food safety scares, said the rumors were spread through WeChat accounts operated by Ying Chen An Zhi Chenggong Culture Communications, Wei Lu Kuang Technology, and Ling Dian Technology.
The postings included digitally alerted photos of deformed chickens and rumors of maggots in a KFC delivery order. “This not only seriously misled consumers, but also hurt our brand,” Qu Cuirong, president of KFC’s China unit, said Monday on the company’s Chinese-language website.
The suits are seeking up to 1.5 million yuan (roughly $245,000) from each defendant, an apology and an end to the alleged illegal practices.
According to Dow Jones, it is rare for a Western company to take action publicly over alleged defamation. But Yum, which operates about 6,850 restaurants in China, including KFC and Pizza Hut, is battling to recover from last summer’s allegations of improper meat handling at a supplier.
In addition, a Chinese media report in 2012 alleged a a KFC supplier had been using growth hormones and antibiotics to help chickens grow faster, prompting a government inquiry.
“Food safety is a big concern for Chinese consumers,” Reuters noted, citing a major scandal involving dairy products that were tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.
Yum’s first-quarter sales in China fell 9% to $1.26 billion, from a year earlier, following declines in the third and fourth quarters of the last fiscal year.