Federal investigators have revealed more twists in their case examining how mislabeled poultry ingredients got into Blue Buffalo and other pet foods. Now, the United States District Court in St. Louis now has accused a total of four companies and four men of involvement in passing off poultry feathers, heads, bones, feet and entrails as high-quality poultry meal, a federal crime, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.*
1. Superior Commodities
Texan Gregory McKinney corrupted what he learned as an inspector in the Office of the Texas State Chemist, reported the Post-Dispatch. McKinney founded and ran a poultry product company that replicated the deceptive techniques he observed other companies using to pass off low-quality raw materials as supposedly superior ingredients. McKinney’s company, Superior Commodities, supplied falsely labeled ingredients to the pet food industry, ultimately contributing to the 2014 false advertising lawsuit by Purina against Blue Buffalo.
In May, McKinney pleaded guilty to the federal felony of adulteration or misbranding of food. On August 24, McKinney will have his sentencing hearing. He faces approximately four years in prison.
2. American By-Products
Another Texas man involved in the case, William Douglas Haning, was indicted in February, but pleaded not guilty, reported the Post-Dispatch. The company Haning co-founded American By-Products. Allegedly, Haning falsified shipping records from 2008 through October 2014 to make the company’s shipments appear to contain higher levels of more expensive raw materials. Those shipments largely went to pet food companies. Wilbur-Ellis purchased American By-Prodcuts in 2011.
On March 6, pet food ingredient supplier Wilbur-Ellis and an employee were charged with eight criminal counts related to their roles in providing allegedly misbranded and adulterated poultry ingredients to Blue Buffalo.
"These misdemeanor charges arise from shipments that allegedly occurred several years ago out of one of our 32 feed division locations around the world," Katherine Fordon, corporate communications manager for Wilbur-Ellis, told Petfood Industry. "At that time, the facility was under prior local management. The company took prompt action to ensure this facility operates according to what our customers, and theirs, should expect. At no time were there any safety concerns with this facility, and nutritional standards were always met.”
On September 27, US District Judge Rodney W. Sippel upheld claims against Diversified Ingredients Inc., the broker that allegedly sold ingredients adulterated with poultry by-product meal to Blue Buffalo. However, the judge reduced some of the claims to compensation made against the broker by pet food ingredient supplier Wilber-Ellis.
Wilbur-Ellis Feed may face three years of probation and may pay nearly US$5.5 million after pleading guilty in April to charges against the company related to mislabeled pet food ingredients sold to Blue Buffalo, reported the Post-Dispatch.
4. Diversified Ingredients
Collin McAtee, co-owner of Ballwin, Missouri-based Diversified Ingredients, also pleaded guilty on May 17, reported the Post-Dispatch. McAtee could face up to one year in prison, but his lawyer plans to ask for probation. In his plea, he revealed that some of the mislabeled ingredient went to co-packers in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Ohio, in addition to Blue Buffalo.
On July 10, Diversified Ingredients pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of adulteration or misbranding of food, reported the Post-Dispatch. The court dropped two additional counts, for which Diversified Ingredients agreed to pay US$1.5 million restitution, a US$75,000 forfeiture judgment, US$2,000 fine and US$250 special assessment. At sentencing, the company may be made to pay out US$5.5 million.
History of Purina and Blue Buffalo legal battles
On May 6, 2014, Purina filed a lawsuit against Blue Buffalo for false advertising of pet food after testing revealed the presence of poultry by-product meal in some of Blue Buffalo’s top-selling pet foods. The false advertising of pet food lawsuits claimed that some Blue Buffalo products were not consistent with the company’s “True Blue Promise,” which stated that the products are “formulated with the finest natural ingredients” and made with “no chicken/poultry by-products meals; no corn, wheat or soy; and no artificial preservatives, colors or flavors.”
Subsequently, Blue Buffalo officially filed a lawsuit against Purina on May 14, 2014. The lawsuit, in response to a lawsuit filed by Purina against Blue Buffalo, claims defamation, unfair competition, false advertising and violations of trade practice statutes.
On May 6, 2015, Blue Buffalo acknowledged in court that a “substantial” and “material” portion of Blue Buffalo pet food sold to consumers contained poultry by-product meal, despite advertising claims to the contrary. Under the terms of the agreement, Blue Buffalo had to pay US$32 million into a settlement fund to settle the claims of the plaintiff class.
* EDITOR'S NOTE: The words "involvement in" were added to this sentence on July 12.