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Blue Buffalo admits pet food was mislabeled, pets got inferior chicken instead

Blue Buffalo issued a press release telling consumers they just might not have been getting what they paid for. What’s worse, pets were not getting chicken meal but were getting poultry by-product meal instead.

Blue Buffalo recently found out that one of its suppliers has been sending them the wrong chicken ingredient: they were getting poultry by-product meal mislabeled as chicken meal, which was then used to make their some of their pet foods.

Blue Buffalo explains, that while they “may have received some of these mislabeled shipments,” there is no mention of how long their supplier had been shipping the wrong ingredient to Blue Buffalo, just that it has been going on for some time.

And, although Blue Buffalo states they just learned of this error, they say the mislabeling issue “was corrected by the supplier months ago.”

It is unclear for what length of time this error has been occurring or why consumers are just now being told about a mislabeling issue that was corrected “months ago.”

Because Blue Buffalo used the mislabeled ingredient, albeit unwittingly, the products containing the wrong ingredient are therefore mislabeled and subject to recall.

But which products are affected?

We don’t know, because Blue Buffalo chose not to reveal that information or if they have any intention of issuing a recall.

Meaningless assurances

Despite assurances by Blue Buffalo that “this mislabeling poses no health, safety or nutrition issue,” and that “any Blue Buffalo food could include a mislabeled ingredient is totally unacceptable”, it brings up several discomforting points:

  • It is troubling that Blue Buffalo has not following the law regarding mislabeled products and issued a recall for their mislabeled product(s). Although Blue Buffalo finds mislabeled ingredients in their products “totally unacceptable,” apparently find it totally acceptable to continue selling products those mislabeled products that should be recalled.
  • Some would argue that poultry by-product meal is inferior to poultry meal, therefore it could be considered a health and nutritional issue.
  • Despite their assurances that they will “no longer do business with that plant in Texas”, that is not an assurance that they will no longer do business with the supplier, just that they won’t accept goods from that plant. The plant in Texas is only a miniscule part of the suppliers vast global enterprise.  The supplier,  Wilbur-Ellis,  is the same company that ensnared Blue Buffalo in the Chinese melamine-contaminated rice protein pet food crisis in 2007 that poisoned and killed hundreds of thousands of pets.
  • If, as they claim in the press release – “every bag of Blue Buffalo is tested to confirm that it meets their nutritional standards before it is released for sale” – were they able to miss that poultry by-product meal generally has a higher ash content than that chicken meal?

Ingredient comparison

The differences between the composition and nutritional profiles of the two poultry products depends largely on processing conditions and on the source of raw materials. However, in terms of definitions, AAFCO defines poultry by-product meal as the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered poultry such as necks, heads, feet, undeveloped eggs, gizzards and intestines, exclusive of feathers.

Chicken meal (or poultry meal) on the other hand, according to AAFCO, is the dry rendered product from a combination of clean flesh and skin with and without accompanying bone, derived from whole carcasses of chicken thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails.

The illusion of transparency

Blue Buffalo takes pains to mention in the press release that although other pet food manufacturers will be affected by this gaffe, they distinguish themselves by saying “Although pet food companies are not required to inform consumers of an incident such as this, where no safety or nutritional issues exist, the Blue Buffalo way is to be transparent with you. So while we have now learned that this mislabeling issue was corrected by the supplier months ago, we believe that you have the right to know about it.”

In marketing, perception is reality. Transparency is when business activities are done in an open way without secrets, so that consumers can trust that they are honest. There are three primary dimensions of corporate transparency: information disclosure, clarity, and accuracy.

The quality of pet food should be judged not only by the quality of their ingredients, but by the quality of their corporate governance policy, the sincerity of their transparency and ultimately, their ability to be accountable by accepting responsibility.

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and advisor to AAFCO. Help support her work by making a donation today.

Comments (29) Write a comment

  1. I fed Blue for five years, last August, my dog starting getting sick rushed him to ER and after five thousand and many test later and meds for the rest for his life. from BLUE changed supplier in aug . Please read there are over a thousand complaints about this food, all with the same like problems my dog has. around the same time this all started. I have since changed to Wellness hopefully this company has more concern for animals than making money using cheap CHINA vitiamins BLUE IS DEADLY My dog is doing ok now but damage is done to his liver. blue should be ashamed.., Also had a dog get sick a few years back when Blue had a problem with vit d in their large breed dog food,not deadly but harmful only a thousand dollars then, Don’t feed this stuff if you care about your pet, toxins build up over time, ………………………………

    Reply

    • Wellness is not made by Old Mother Hubbard itself, it is manufactured by a co-packer. Like any food that is made by a “contract manufacturer,” you may not necessarily get what you pay for. There can be mistakes, careless or institutional, or cross-contamination when batches are changed, etc., and a myriad of other problems. As far as vitamin additives, as Mollie has discussed, virtually all pet food manufacturers use bulk vitamins sourced from China, claiming that there is no readily available alternative. For that reason, “made in US” is not something you can rely on, either.

      Reply

  2. This is EXACTLY why we should be feeding our pets either raw or home cooked food that WE buy them and prepare for them. Do you buy your kid McDonalds every day for supper? No? why not?
    Ohhhh it would make them sick…and it’s crap food…ohhhhh
    If you are going to have a dog in your life, know that it is not as easy opening a bag of hard bits and pouring it into a bowl…it takes time, love, commitment and yes money….
    I am so very glad that I never have to worry about what my pups are eating…I know what they are eating because I make it!

    Reply

    • I know how much time, commitment and love and dedication and labor and money it takes, because I am one of those (nutty) raw-fooders who actually make their own food for their cats (all seven!).

      But not just any food, mind, it has to be organic, human-grade and humane and local – whew!

      It’s a tall order, but then again, I was one of the people who, like most people, thought that kibble (for cats) was fine. I really did.

      I wasn’t lazy, cheap or careless – I just didn’t know.

      And when you know better- you do better.

      That’s my job – to help people know about what goes on behind the scenes in the pet food industry, not to shame consumers for not knowing.

      They won’t know (usually) until some personal tragedy involving one of their pets gets them to take a close hard look at pet food.

      That’s what happened to me (read my About Me page for my experience with my baby Blackie); then I did a ton of research and Voila! Poisoned Pets was born!

      Thanks for sharing Jennifer!

      Reply

  3. Maybe, just maybe, listen to what your veterinarian recommends for food and not “the kid at the pet store” and this kind of issue can be avoided every time They did go to school for 6+ years. Foods sold at vet clinics go through rigorous scientific testing (which is not mandatory in the pet food industry) and are developed by veterinarian nutritionists. How many of the foods sold at the pet stores can say the same thing?

    Reply

    • You are correct, I would not regard the “kid at the pet store” highly, but I would not agree about listening to a veterinarian either. Most vets are painfully ignorant of nutritional science, as it is not a focus of training at most schools. Also, the agriculture conglomerates (pet food manufacturers) subsidize much of their veterinary education, through supplies and texts, that many students are reliant upon to meet the cost of attending. As a result, graduates are often very much “beholden” to these pet food giants for their education, and are reluctant to “bite the hand that fed them.” The foods offered for sale at veterinary clinics may well have gone through much “rigorous scientific testing,” but that is deceiving, as much pet food science is directed at developing “palatants” and other means to get your dog or cat to eat something that he otherwise would never touch. The base of many “veterinary formulas” is generally grain-based. I would never accept a veterinary formula for my cats, they are just a profit center for the veterinary clinic.

      Reply

      • Thanks for telling that poor soul what I didn’t have the heart to tell her. We’ve all been there at some point in our lives (when we naively believed that doctors were God-like), until we realize they are just as fallible as the rest of the human population. Doctors can be manipulated by marketing just like the rest of us. And they are, all the time. Big pet food and Big Pharma spends millions promoting their products to veterinarians.

        Doctors, like everyone else, are influenced by promotion. Observational studies have all reached a similar conclusion: Doctors’ prescribing behavior as well as other behaviors are influenced by promotions.

        Studies have been done that show the powerful influence a small gift (something as inconsequential and trivial as a branded pen) from a pet food company or a pharmaceutical company can sway a doctor to make decisions that benefit the company that gave them the gift and to get them to see the company in a more favorable light. Gifts create both expectation and obligation. Many veterinarians receive pens, notepads, and coffee mugs, all items kept close at hand, ensuring that a targeted pet food brand’s name or animal drug’s name stays uppermost in a physician’s subconscious mind.

        Physicians are susceptible to corporate influence because they are overworked, overwhelmed with information and paperwork, and feel underappreciated. But, studies reflect that every word, every courtesy, every gift, and every piece of information provided is carefully crafted, not to assist doctors or patients, but to increase market share for targeted pet products.

        Reply

        • There ARE a lot of good vets out there. Lots of them. There are, unfortunately, many others, who aren’t. Cost of the appointment is not a barometer of expertise. Where I live, it costs $29 for a nail trim for a cat. The going rate for an ordinary appointment is $80 and up. A “physical” during that appointment, can be less than a minute in duration. A normal topic of conversation at the “dog park” is “who is your vet?” since everyone is looking for a new one, it seems. Time, it seems, has stood still: many locally are stunningly “old fashioned” and parrot feeding protocols we’ve heard since the 1960s. In some of the offices, the “deliveries” of “prescription” foods are stacked high, and often, spill into the waiting room. They are the “name brands” we all know. And “poultry byproduct meal”? Sure, its in there.

          Pet food manufacturers also weed their way into shelters. They provide food to shelters, and who can refuse that, when funds are often so desperate? In exchange, the animals are feed the donated food exclusively (kind-hearted individuals may donate “premium” food for the animals, not realizing that the shelter cannot use it because of these contractual obligations, but quietly gives it away), it is promoted in the shelter through displays and literature, and the clients (adopters) are sent home with a bag of food. Pet food manufacturers, such as Science Diet, know that this gives them a client for life.

          Reply

          • I did not intend to denigrate the medical profession. That said, I am wary of pet food recommendations from veterinarians.

            If my physician were to recommend that I switch from eating organic food to eating McDonald’s because they were convinced it was a more wholesome, nutritionally complete, diet, or give me prescription to eat just Lean Cuisine or Jenny Craig’s or recommend that I eat Kellog’s Corn Flakes for breakfast every morning for the rest of my life – I would be aghast.

            Yet, vets make these same kinds of recommendations all the time without realizing the potential conflict of interest – particularly if they sell what they recommend.

            However, there are exceptions; for example, my vet, Dr. Katy Sommers (author of the Complete Holistic Dog Book) at the Mendocino Animal Hospital in Northern California is that rare vet who is aware of the problems with most commercial pet foods. Her recommendation? Honest Kitchen (which, amazingly, she carries at the hospital). You can read HK’s review of her book here: http://www.thehonestkitchen.com/thk-blog/holistic-dog-book/.

            Her other recommendation to clients? Read Poisoned Pets.

            Yup, it’s true.

        • No, I’m not naive. I work at a vet clinic as a tech assistant and have for the last 6 years. In Canada, maybe I should add. I’m also a zoology major at university so I know the difference between a reliable source and good ol’ “Dr. Google” that every seems to believe without a question and where they do most of their “research”. The vets I work for are not, as you say, “easily swayed” or “susceptible” to promote foods because they receive pens and mugs from the food companies. Are you serious?? They have better heads on their shoulders than that! They have looked at the science behind the foods that we sell and that they feed to their own pets. They have traveled to the plants where the food is made and seen for themselves their operations. That being said, they are very picky about the foods that we carry and recommend and do not put anything on our shelves that they have not carefully researched. Are you a vet? Did you go to vet school and take the classes on nutrition? If the answer is no then you don’t get comment on what the “focus” of vet nutrition is. Obviously not all vets are created equally, but to paint them all with the same brush is unfair to the profession as a whole.The science speaks for itself. As for raw…well here you go: https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/FAQs/Pages/Raw-Pet-Foods-and-the-AVMA-Policy-FAQ.aspx, http://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/raw-food-diets-for-pets and there’s waaaaaaaay more where that came from. Every provincial vet med association in Canada has a position statement on raw foods that echo these. Hospitals and seniors homes that work with organizations that bring dogs into their facilities will not allow dogs that are on raw diets because it is potentially harmful to ill people and immunosupressed people. The pre-packaged raw patties are also not fully balanced and do not contain enough of/the correct ratio of micronutrient and macronutrients that dogs need to grow properly as puppies (think of bone growth, especially in large breeds) and also as adults which leaves them susceptible to to a whole host of health issues. Home cooking is totally cool, you just have to be super careful about what you make and what ratios the carbs, fats, proteins, macro and micronutrients are in. There are some good VETERINARY NUTRITIONIST websites that have recipes for fully balanced and health condition specific home cooked diets.

          Wild canids, such as coyotes and wolves are OMNIVORES so if they came across some corn they would very likely eat it. The hull of the corn is made of cellulose and as such is indigestible, however, the inside is full of carbs, proteins and fats (all of which the cells in every living creature’s body uses) that are nutrituous which is what is released when you grind the corn. The wild ancestor of domestic dogs (wolves) obviously eat raw meat from their prey, HOWEVER, after thousands of years of domestication the domestic dog gastrointestinal system is very different and does not digest and absorb the nutrients from raw food the same. I also work at a wildlife hospital and rehabilitation centre. Have you ever seen a wild coyote or wolf up close? Ever seen a fecal sample from them under the microscope? They are generally not the epitome of health so if that’s model you are striving for by feeding your pets raw food (which you are, you just don’t know it) then you can expect major vet bills in your future. Kind of ironic I would say, seeing as they don’t recommend it and yet it will end up bringing money into their clinics.

          Reply

          • Christine, you can argue all you want, but studies have shown that members of the medical profession can be influenced by the marketing of pharmaceutical companies.

            I did not suggest that doctors were stupid or “easily swayed”. The influence is subconscious, therefore one would not be consciously aware of it.

            Yet, it occurs, with even small inconsequential gifts like pens, for instance. I can see it if it were a 1962 Jaguar XKE, or a 1964 Mercedes Benz 280 SEL, but a lousy branded pen? Yes, I’m afraid so.

            The researchers of a recent study on this subject, whose study appears in The Archives of Internal Medicine, suggest that no gift is too small.

            Read “Effect of Exposure to Small Pharmaceutical Promotional Items on Treatment Preferences” (The Archives of Internal Medicine)

            and “Behavior: Small Gifts Found to Influence Doctors” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/19/health/research/19beha.html?_r=0).

            I encourage you also to read “No Free Lunch,” a nonprofit group started by Dr. Goodman that encourages doctors to reject drug company giveaways.

            If you are interested I would be happy to share with you my other references (published in scientific journals) on this topic.

            Also, the AVMA is not what I would consider a reliable source of information, because they too have been influenced by their association with corporate sponsors. Among them are some of the biggest pharmaceutical and pet food manufacturers on the planet. I would assume that they have a joint interest in keeping the customers who buy their highly processed, cooked food.

            In fact, I wrote a piece about it, shortly following their policy dictating the discouragement of the feeding or the recommendation of a raw pet food diet: “AVMA vs. Raw Food; Industry Wins, Pets Lose” (http://www.poisonedpets.com/avma-vs-raw-food-pets-lose-industry-wins/)

          • Well, the “did you go to vet school?” is a challenge that is common among veterinary professionals. The further step, “then you don’t get to comment…” is not unusual, either. This is the patriarchal model of vet-client relationship, with the vet dominating the client. It’s also how the vet maintains a brisk schedule, since there is very little give-and-take between the parties.

            Unfortunately, depending on your relationship with him or her, you will often get more than a moment of silence and a raised eyebrow, if you question many vets about their admonitions about “prescription diets.” I remember the US-based ASPCA had a good blog years ago, but dismantled it when it became difficult to moderate. There was one vet, I remember, dispensing “advice,” who very aggressively attacked anyone who questioned his comments, with the same tack. He hollered in capitals, the precise words you use. But no, one does not actually have to attend veterinary school, to be aware of its general “focus,” any more than one need be of many professions that require advanced schooling… sorry! And frankly, one does not have to be an “expert” to realistically analyze the ingredient list of prescription diets found at veterinary clinics.

            And while dogs may be omnivores (do you think that is a surprise to us?), a grain-based diet is not necessarily ideal (unless you are a pet food manufacturer constrained by “least cost mix” protocols), and if a starving dog raids the rural farm… he will head for the chicken coop… not the corn silo. Comon. We live in an age where the “focus” of pet food manufacture is on palatants because the base of these foods is crud, and the “science” behind the products means that insects that infest the grain that is their base can be considered a legitimate protein source that the manufacturer can argue is good for them.

            That does not mean that every prescription diet is wrong. Like it or not, some pets with specific medical issues may need prescription diets, and the pet parent, in many if not most cases, is factually ignorant of what their pet may need to resolve or at least manage a myriad of health issues. Surprised? No, like many, I am not unwilling to investigate or accept another POV. But there may be other ways to accomplish what we may need to do, besides what the vet has to offer, and the vet, in turn, should work to accommodate those who would like to pursue a more “natural” approach, when that may be viable.

            Christine, you make some good points. But when you frame it in the “did you go to vet school?” challenge, that dissipates. Too many of us as consumers and clients, are faced with an adversarial relationship that is naturally occurring between ourselves and the available medical professionals that we can access, for the very reasons that you suggest in your comments.

          • I always feel threatened (and immediately put off) by the “did you go to vet school?” admonition.

            Well, no I didn’t, but that doesn’t preclude me from sharing an opinion. It should be (if one is open minded enough) a place in the dialog to exchange differing ideas, not to try to shame someone for having them.

            It is just this kind of attitude that makes me rebel against certain physicians who, because their belief in their superiority, demand that patients/clients be subservient and compliant.

            I hope, Christine, that when you do finally deal with clients as a practicing veterinarian, that you refrain from abusing them with your superior attitude.

            Because, you will only accomplish two things with your condescending manner, and that is:

            One: You will piss them off

            and/or

            Two: You will hurt them.

            Two things people don’t generally appreciate.

            It goes without saying too, that they probably won’t ever want to come back. Unless they are a masochist and enjoy being abused, or they are in desperate need and you’re the only vet around for a hundred miles.

            So, not only will you succeed in losing a client and a patient, but, you missed the opportunity to practice what you went to vet school for – to help animals.

            You can’t help animals if you alienate their owners.

            Which brings me to the Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics: Veterinarians should first consider the needs of the patient: to relieve disease, suffering, or disability while minimizing pain or fear.

            And you can’t do that if you scare of your clients.

          • Thank you, Christine! Vet Tech for 15+ years. Worked with a veterinary nutritionist. She did plenty of client lectures. I bet the people on this forum have never looked to see if these are available in their areas. Shame.

    • I am a pet owner who lost my cat from feeding him Science Diet Veterinarian prescribed food.. I purchased the food at the Vet clinic. I know that at the same time a handful of dog owners who purchased prescribed food (also Science Diet lost their animals) to kidney failure. It was not the fault of the Vet….It was the fault of the manufacturer! Vets are not immune to getting poorly made food. The Vets do not regulate the manufacture of the food to my knowledge. I am a strong advocate to feeding your animal it’s natural diet as a result. If I don’t make it…my two GSDs do not eat it now…right down to biscuits! My two mean the world to me and I would never think of feeding them anything like processed foods…..when was the last time you saw a dog in the wild eat corn??? Does it not make more sense to feed them a balanced raw diet like their ancestors? Just my two cents

      Reply

  4. Actually, Poultry by-products can be from ANY bird….turkey, chicken, duck, crows, budgies, as long as it is bird. Chicken meal on the other hand, must consist solely of chicken sources. BIG difference!!! Same with Meat meal vs Lamb or Beef meal. ANY animal vs specifically sourced meat.

    Reply

    • Actually, there is no legal definition for ‘chicken meal.’ It is called ‘poultry meal.’ Why companies use a term that is not a legal AAFCO definition is beyond me.

      9.71 ‘Poultry Meal is the dry rendered product from a combination of clean flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts of whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails’

      9.14 ‘Poultry By-Products must consist of non-rendered clean parts of carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet and viscera, free from fecal content and foreign matter except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice.’

      Reply

  5. Blue needs to undertake a serious examination of its business protocols for transparency and frankly, simple respect for its customers. We paid for one ingredient, but got another, which should have cost less, and we may well have bought their product attempting to avoid what we got. Absent a full-fledged recall, and some sort of compensation to its customers, I would have reason to distrust what they tell me, in the past, and going forward. It may be “totally unacceptable,” but that is just posturing: Blue is keeping the money we paid, apparently, without second thought.

    Reply

    • Had the president of Blue asked me to evaluate his press release I would have suggested some major revisions, so as not to look like a total ass. But, as I am not an industry consultant he has to read my critique in the media instead! His bad.

      I was appalled at the lack of meaningful consideration and action they took regarding mislabeled product, simply refusing shipments from one of Wilbur-Ellis’ plants is “totally unacceptable.” They have been buying their ingredients since the melamine debacle, so c’mon – are they serious about protecting consumers or their bottom line?

      It’s seems clear to me (from their lack of action) that they have taken the low road and chose profits over people.

      The letter just reeked of spin, “transparency”, “totally unacceptable”, bla bla bla, is meaningless if they aren’t truly transparent. Like, just which foods were sold with the inferior ingredient? Are those products still on the market? Why haven’t they conducted recalls? What action have they taken besides tooting their own horn, and telling the FDA? Did they contact each state the food was/is being sold in? What were the results of their nutritional analysis of the ingredients they are so proud of testing? Why didn’t they discover the differences in the nutritional analysis between poultry meal and poultry meal by-product? Was this happening for months, days, weeks?

      Real concern and customer support means refunding their money. Real care means issuing recalls. Real action means contacting every single state the food was sold in and telling them they have product that is mislabeled. Meaningful change means ending their relationship with suppliers like Wilbur-Ellis completely, not just refusing to accept supplies from Wilbur-Ellis’ plant in Texas.

      I called Wilbur-Ellis and Blue yesterday before I wrote the story expecting answers or at least a return call – but no. I’ve heard nothing from either of them (it’s been 24 hours). That is the kiss of death, media wise. If I get any news from either of them I will update the post or write a new one.

      Reply

  6. So basically people were paying premium prices for an inferior product. Sweet deal for the company but not so much for the consumer or the animal eating those leftover body parts. I don’t save receipts for dog food but if I did I would want a refund on all the months I paid their prices for food I could get at the dollar store.

    Reply

  7. Why is it when a pet food company grows large their quality grows small. This ambiguous information shared by Blue Buffalo causes this pet consumer distress and I will continue to stay away from large corporate pet food manufacturers such as Blue Buffalo. If my favorite and trusted brands turn into, or are sold to large corporate machines I will quit buying them!

    Reply

  8. We took our boys, Himalayan cats, off of Blue Buffalo months ago. It was causing, vomiting in one and urinary crystals in the other. We were feeding Blue Buffalo basics, Turkey and Potato. It seemed like an abrupt change… all of a sudden we had problems.

    Reply

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