Big Heart Pet Brands faces lawsuit over natural claims

Two consumers allege that Big Heart falsely markets Nature's Recipe brand pet foods as all natural.

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(Iridi | BigStock.com)
(Iridi | BigStock.com)

Big Heart Pet Brands, owned by J.M. Smucker, faces a class action lawsuit filed by two pet food purchasers in New York. The consumers allege that Big Heart falsely markets Nature's Recipe brand pet foods as all natural. The plaintiffs claim that the presence of certain chemicals renders this claim incorrect.

“In fact, the Products contain non-natural, artificial, and/or synthetic ingredients including but not limited to sodium tripolyphosphate (‘STPP’), synthetic vitamins and minerals, citric acid, and lactic acid,” wrote lawyers representing the pet food buyers in legal papers filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York on Jan. 7.

Other pet food ingredients noted by the plaintiff’s lawyers included:

  • Niacin Supplement,
  • Vitamin A Supplement,
  • D-calcium Pantothenate,
  • Thiamine Mononitrate,
  • Beta-Carotene,
  • Riboflavin Supplement,
  • Pyridoxine Hydrochloride,
  • Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex,
  • Folic Acid,
  • Copper Sulfate,
  • Calcium Iodate,
  • Sodium Selenite.

The plaintiffs claimed that if they had been aware that Nature's Recipe dog and cat foods contained these ingredients, they would not have purchased the products or would have paid less for them.

However, in the product photos submitted with the court documents, the words “with added vitamins, minerals and nutrients” appear on the packages. Earlier, similar class action lawsuits suggest that this wording may be important.

Previous lawsuits related to natural pet food claims

For example in 2017, natural pet food claims by Ainsworth’s Rachael Ray Nutrish came under fire in a class action lawsuit filed in a California federal court.

Although he was unfamiliar with the particulars of this class action lawsuit against Nutrish, a pet food industry consultant assessed the legal issues involved.

“The main problem is that AAFCO has defined ‘natural’ for dogs and cats. However, no definition exists for human foods,” Ryan Yamka, PhD told Petfood Industry. “I wouldn't be surprised if you see this happen again within the industry.”

Yamka pointed to AAFCO Official Publication 2017 page 148. Those guideline would allow "natural with added vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients.”

“The disclaimer ‘with added vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients’ would need to appear with the largest or most prominent use of the term ‘natural’ on each panel,” he said. “For example: front of bag, back of bag, etc."

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