Pet food manufacturer Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. is defending its Beneful brand as safe in light of a lawsuit that claims the food killed or sickened an undetermined number of dogs.
The lawsuit alleges that the illnesses and deaths were linked to contaminated grain and food-grade propylene glycol used in eight Beneful kibble recipes. The document, filed Feb. 5 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, requests class-action status, which if granted could turn thousands of dog owners nationwide into plaintiffs.
St. Louis-based Purina issued a statement calling Beneful “a favorite of millions of pet owners and their dogs.”
“First and foremost, there are no quality issues with Beneful,” the company stated. “Beneful is a high-quality, nutritious food enjoyed by millions of dogs every day. In fact, in 2014, nearly 1.5 billion Beneful meals were served to millions of happy, healthy dogs who enjoy and thrive on this food.”
The lawsuit was filed by Discovery Bay, Calif., dog owner Frank Lucido, who said his German shepherd and Labrador retriever became sick and his English bulldog died within weeks of starting a Beneful diet.
Lucido’s attorney, Jeffrey B. Cereghino, claimed in the lawsuit that testing of Beneful by the Association for Truth in Pet Food, an advocacy group, had found dangerous levels of mycotoxins, which are produced by grain fungus and which he said are “a known significant health risk to dogs.”
The lawsuit also pointed to the ingredient propylene glycol, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned in cat food in 1996 because of what the agency said were “significant questions” about its safety.
Propylene glycol is used to retain moisture in kibble.
Purina disputed the lawsuit’s claim that propylene glycol is poisonous to dogs. A fact sheet on the Beneful website noted that “propylene glycol is quite different from ethylene glycol, the anti-freeze used in automobiles.”
“Propylene glycol is approved as a food additive in human food and in feed for animals, except cats, in the U.S., Canada and the European Union,” the company stated.
Purina also stated that the grains used in its pet foods are sampled and analyzed at the plants to ensure quality and safety.
The lawsuit alleges that pet owners have lodged more than 3,000 online complaints over the past four years about Beneful harming their dogs. Nine entries were quoted in the lawsuit.
Purina took issue with the online criticism.
“Like other pet foods, Beneful is occasionally the subject of social media-driven misinformation,” the company stated. “Online postings often contain false, unsupported and misleading allegations that cause undue concern and confusion for our Beneful customers.”
Lucido’s lawsuit seeks at least $5 million in damages for himself and other class-action plaintiffs on grounds of negligence, false advertising and other claims.
Purina described the lawsuit as “baseless” and said, “We intend to vigorously defend ourselves and our brand.
“Beneful had two previous class-action suits filed in recent years with similar baseless allegations, and both were dismissed by the courts,” the company added. “Class-action suits are common in business these days. They are not indicative of a product issue.”
The latest lawsuit got the attention of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The organization advised pet owners and veterinarians to contact the FDA and the manufacturer if any food or treat if believed to have sickened an animal.
Adverse events associated with pet food may be reported to the FDA at www.safetyreporting.hhs.gov.