Blue Buffalo Co. acknowledged this week after months of denials that some of its pet food may have contained poultry byproduct meal because of a labeling mix-up involving a supplier.
The admission was the latest chapter in a pending legal case between two of the world’s largest pet food manufacturers. In a lawsuit filed in May, Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. accused Blue Buffalo of false advertising, an allegation that set off a countersuit and back-and-forth claims.
Blue Buffalo chairman Bill Bishop told cat and dog owners in a statement posted on the company website Tuesday that animal feed supplier Wilbur-Ellis Co. mislabeled and shipped poultry byproduct meal to an undisclosed number of customers.
Blue Buffalo stopped short of confirming that any of its food contained poultry byproduct meal, which is made from ground-up bird parts such as necks, feet and intestines. The Wilton, Conn., company advertises that its products are free of poultry byproduct meal, chicken byproduct meal, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and corn, wheat and soy.
“We may have received some of these mislabeled shipments, and there likely are numerous other pet food companies who also received these mislabeled ingredients,” Bishop said.
Purina asserted in an amended complaint filed in September that a laboratory analysis had found poultry byproduct meal in some Blue Buffalo foods, including a reading of 24 percent in a sample of one Life Protection recipe for cats.
San Francisco-based Wilbur-Ellis blamed the labeling blunder on “poor recordkeeping and operational processes” at a plant in Rosser, Texas.
“In light of this, Wilbur-Ellis has enhanced the processes and standards at the Rosser facility to ensure compliance with the company’s demanding quality requirements and provided additional senior-level oversight to ensure those requirements are being met,” the company stated.
Poultry byproduct meal is an approved pet food ingredient.
“Although mislabeled, the products sold by the Rosser facility were all commonly used in pet food and perfectly safe for pets to consume,” Wilbur-Ellis added.
Blue Buffalo claims not to use poultry byproduct meal but does add chicken meal and turkey meal, which come from whole meat, to certain pet foods.
The Wilbur-Ellis shipments were mislabeled as chicken meal, Bishop said.
“So while their customers were ordering and paying for 100 percent chicken meal, at times they were receiving shipments that contained poultry byproduct meal,” he explained.
The Rosser plant will no longer supply Blue Buffalo, Bishop said.
“The fact that any Blue Buffalo food could include a mislabeled ingredient is totally unacceptable,” he said.
Blue Buffalo’s statements are proof of the company’s transparency, Bishop said.
Purina ridiculed the announcement.
“Blue Buffalo is not being as ‘transparent’ as they claim,” Purina stated on its website. “Remarkably, it was Purina—not Blue Buffalo—that unearthed the truth through its scientific testing and, more recently, from documents it obtained through the legal process from one of Blue Buffalo’s ingredient suppliers.
“Without Purina’s filing of this lawsuit, the truth would still be untold. … Changing your story only after the facts are revealed is not transparency.”
Purina ruled out the chance that it received mislabeled poultry byproduct meal.
“We have not used the Texas plant of Wilbur-Ellis … in more than half a decade,” the manufacturer reported.
The bad blood between Blue Buffalo and Purina continues despite the mislabeling revelation. Purina’s amended lawsuit challenges the nutrient levels in Blue Buffalo’s LifeSource Bits, which are added to kibble, the absorption strength of Naturally Fresh cat litter and the glucosamine levels in Jolly Joints dog treats.
Purina tried to “muddy the waters” with the additional accusations, Bishop said, and he called his competitor’s lawsuit “a marketing campaign disguised as a legal case.”
Blue Buffalo countersued in federal court in St. Louis days after Purina’s initial action. The Blue Buffalo lawsuit accuses Purina of defamation, unfair competition and false advertising.
A trial date has not been set.
Nestlé Purina PetCare, based in St. Louis, is the world’s second-largest pet food company, with 2012 revenue of $16.2 billion from brands such as Beneful, Pro Plan and Friskies. Blue Buffalo ranked seventh, with sales of $730 million, according to Pet Food Industry magazine.