Blue Buffalo Co., one of the world’s largest pet food makers, admitted in a courtroom May 6 that a substantial portion of its products at one time contained poultry byproduct meal, and the company blamed the situation on a supplier’s “mislabeling scheme.”
The acknowledgment came as the Wilton, Conn., manufacturer asked a U.S. District Court judge in St. Louis to interrupt proceedings in a lawsuit filed by competitor Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. The judge granted a three-month delay to give Blue Buffalo time to sue Wilbur-Ellis Co. and draw the San Francisco animal feed supplier further into the case.
Blue Buffalo and Purina have engaged in a long-running war of words and legal fight over allegations that some Blue Buffalo food was made with poultry byproduct meal contrary to the company’s labeling and advertising.
A countersuit filed by Blue Buffalo accuses Purina, the world’s No. 2 pet food manufacturer, of defamation, unfair competition and false advertising.
Both companies verbally attacked each other in the days after the court hearing.
“Despite this admission, Blue Buffalo still has not informed consumers of the presence of poultry byproduct meal in Blue Buffalo pet food, refuses to accept responsibility for the product it sold, and is instead blaming its suppliers,” said Keith Schopp, a Purina spokesman.
“We fully understand your concern with this topic,” Blue Buffalo stated in an online notice to pet owners, “but you should know that the recent press release by Nestle Purina is simply the latest attack in their yearlong smear campaign against Blue Buffalo.
“Just recently, [Wilbur-Ellis] made additional disclosures in legal proceedings that showed that a substantial proportion of its shipments to our contract manufacturing facilities prior to May 2014 were, in fact, mislabeled.”
Blue Buffalo cut ties to Wilbur-Ellis in October 2014 after the supplier reported that poultry byproduct meal mistakenly labeled as chicken meal was shipped to an undisclosed number of customers.
At the time, Blue Buffalo did not confirm the presence of poultry byproduct meal—a safe but less expensive pet food ingredient—in its products. A company lawyer, Steven A. Zalesin, told the court May 6 that details were slow in coming from Wilbur-Ellis.
“We … were able to determine for the first time that the Wilbur-Ellis mislabeling scheme did, in fact, impact a significant proportion of Blue Buffalo’s dry pet food products that were manufactured from material that was shipped to our co-packers prior to May of 2014,” Zalesin said.
A Wilbur-Ellis spokeswoman declined to comment on the newest allegations and on the threat of a lawsuit.
Blue Buffalo advertises that its food for cats and dogs is absent of poultry byproduct meal, chicken byproduct meal, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and corn, wheat and soy.
“Blue Buffalo had no knowledge that it was being defrauded by its supplier,” Zalesin said.
“We paid for high-priced, high-quality chicken meal, but that’s not what we got in many instances,” he added.
Purina sneered at Blue Buffalo’s explanation.
“Only when faced with undeniable evidence from the lawsuit has Blue Buffalo admitted the truth to the court: a ‘substantial’ and ‘material’ portion of Blue Buffalo pet food sold over the past several years contained poultry byproduct meal,” Schopp said.
“It is unclear to us if or when this practice stopped, or whether any Blue Buffalo pet food containing byproduct meal is still on store shelves.”