Greenies on top of dog's head

Mars sued over Greenies ‘#1 Vet Recommended’ claim, says it’s baloney

Judge orders Mars Inc. to substantiate claims in false advertising suit over dental dog chew Greenies.

In a lawsuit filed last week, pet care giant Mars, Inc. stands accused of deceiving and misleading dog owners with a claim that its Greenies dental chews purportedly are the “#1 Vet Recommended Dental Chew.”

Netherlands-based Paragon Pet Products Europe B.V. alleges that Mars’s claim that Greenies is the “#1 Vet Recommended Dental Chew” is unsubstantiated and false.  A footnote on the back panel of the packaging suggests that Greenies is not, in fact, recommended by most or even a majority of veterinarians.

Specifically, Greenies claims that they are “The #1 Vet-Recommended Dental Chews and Treats*”

“* In pet specialty stores, among U.S. veterinarians who recommend dental chews and treats for at-home oral care.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, the judge hearing the case in the Southern District of New York granted Paragon’s application for an order directing Mars to produce:

“all substantiation (e.g., documents, reports, studies, data, emails, and so forth” for the claim, “#1 Vet Recommended Dental Chew.”

A hearing has been set for July 28 to consider next steps – including Paragon’s request for preliminary injunctive relief against Mars.

Paragon’s complaint seeks an injunction requiring Mars to halt further use of the “#1 Vet Recommended Dental Chew” claim, to offer refunds to deceived purchasers of Greenies dental chews, and to correct and abate prior false advertising statements, including by correction or recall of Greenies retail packaging which contains the “#1 Vet Recommended Dental Chew” claim.  Paragon is also seeking monetary relief.

This is not the first time Greenies has been the subject of a lawsuit. One in particular, involved dogs who died after being fed the “top-selling pet treat in the country.” The problem comes because the treat become lodged in a dog’s esophagus or intestine and then some veterinarians say they don’t break down. Brendan McKiernan, a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist from Denver, Colorado, told CNN:

“I know they are marketed in saying that they do digest. Certainly the ones that we’ve taken out, esophageal or intestinal, that have been in for days are still very hard.”

The suit was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Months after the lawsuit was settled, however, Mars reformulated the treats supposedly making them “easier for dogs to chew and digest.” The new-and-improved treats were to have a chewier texture and “break points” built in to help dogs crunch the treats into smaller, easier-to-swallow pieces. The ingredients were also changed to break down more quickly in the stomach.

Lets wait and see whether Mars can actually produce evidence that supports their “#1 Vet Recommended Dental Chew” claim.

Paragon Pets is being represented by the law firm of Hughes Hubbard and Reed intellectual property partner James W. Dabney.

Source: Paragon Pet Products Europe B.V. vs. Mars Inc.

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Mollie Morrissette

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Comments (12) Write a comment

  1. A woman wrote me and told me of her experience with Greenies – I thought I’d share it with you:

    “I am so grateful to have stumbled onto your site ! I thought I had done all my research and felt I was feeding the best possible holistic food for my baby Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Knowing how all babies love to chew I bought “baby size greenies”. A few days later I noticed small amounts of blood in her urine…when she piddled on the floor where I could see it. The next day she was listless and being a nurse I noticed blood in her last stool and I could tell she was having an intestinal bleed which is a very distinctive odor. I rushed her to the vet and they started an IV and drew blood and abdominal ex-ray. There were portions of the greenie blocking her intestines and needed immediate surgery. My Penny is alive today, but what I learned frightened me to death. The Vet showed me what was in her intestines and there were pieces of plastic not “digestible” as the product stated. Since that time I have been trying to get the word out about these products.”

    Sent in by Virginia Eckles

    Reply

  2. Personally, I feel the best way to clean your dogs teeth is to use doggie toothpaste & a toothbrush daily to remove plaque buildup!

    Reply

  3. Personally, I can’t believe that Greenies is still on the market. After the comment of the CEO/owner years back when so many dogs were dying….something along the lines of “We claim they are edible, not digestible”……. I was astounded by the arrogance and lack of concern of the company. Now I’m just amazed that people still by the crap.

    Reply

    • They said whaaat? OMLord. I have to find that quote. Well… I tried, briefly, to find it, but can’t locate it quickly enough. If you come across it – post it here! I’d love to have it. Thanks!

      Reply

      • Wow..that was over 10 years ago…this is the closest link I could find where the statement according to a Greenies Executive is that the product is 100% edible and 85% digestible.

        http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/dog-treat-may-carry-danger/nKgBR/

        I just remember listening to it on the news, way back when, and the reporter was cornering the guy stating that due to the 100% edible packaging statement, people assumed 100% digestible and what was the difference, weren’t they falsely advertising. That’s when I remember his comment of 100% edible does not mean 100% digestible. I threw out all my greenies that day and never bought them again.

        Reply

        • I did read the 100% edible, 80% digestible comment. I wonder how many inanimate objects (non-food items) are by definition edible, but don’t digest all that well? Lemme see, poop? Rawhide? Garbage? Compost?

          Reply

  4. A few years back, after checking with my vet about the indigestibility of Greenies, she informed me that the chews had been reformulated to correct that problem. She did not recommend the treats to me, simply answered my question regarding the safety of feeding them.
    I bought lots of Greenies but didn’t keep receipts so I guess if they are ordered to repay consumers I won’t have any documentation of my purchases. About a year ago I learned that Greenies were not very helpful in keeping dog teeth clean so I stopped purchasing them.
    I have talked to many vets over the past three years and not one has recommended Greenies. It will be interesting to watch this case develop.

    Reply

    • Apparently they were “reformulated” to be more digestible. How effective they are at actually cleaning teeth is another matter. The subject is too complex to go into here. Suffice it to say, I do not believe (personally) that these chews could effectively “clean” teeth. That is just my opinion, without citing scientific literature.

      Reply

    • Yes, I’ve been there. I almost included their organization in the article, because they go into their conflict of interest policy at length. Apparently, they claim that any member with a conflict of interest is barred from voting on any product they have a financial interest in:

      Conflict of Interest Statement

      The available pool of interested and informed individuals is small at present compared to human dentistry. Thus it will not be possible to appoint to the VOHC or its Panels only individuals with no likelihood of prior involvement in the development or testing of all potentially reviewable products. However, individuals appointed to any function in the process will be expected to withdraw from stating opinions or voting on issues regarding products in which they have had or have a personal, professional, or financial interest or involvement.

      Reply

  5. Here is what AAFCO requires for a “veterinarian-recommended” claim; it will be interesting to see what documentation Mars produces to substantiate it:

    Can I put “vet recommended” on a label? If so, what are the requirements? Is that determined by each individual state, or is this something there is a consensus on?

    The AAFCO Pet Food Committee (PFC) has discussed this issue. AAFCO Model Regulations for Pet Food and Specialty Pet Food Regulations, Regulation PF2(f) states, “A personal or commercial endorsement is permitted on a pet food or specialty pet food label provided the endorsement is not false or misleading.”

    First of all, this regulation allows you to include endorsements on product labels. What this regulation does not tell you is how do you support such an endorsement as “veterinarian recommended” so that the claim is not false or misleading. The AAFCO Pet Food Committee has determined that a statistically sound survey of veterinarians would be adequate to support such a claim as “veterinarian recommended.” This means surveying one or two veterinarians is not adequate. So how many veterinarians should you survey? I can’t tell you that, since there is so much variation in determining “statistically sound”.

    I would think that the number of veterinarians should be relevant to the product type, what similar product is your product being compared to (i.e., this product is recommended over what other product?), the number of customers you would normally expect to buy your product, and then the number of veterinarians who would normally handle that number of customers. I’ve seen companies’ data that included survey results from about 300 or so veterinarians. The survey questions were not lengthy, and I believe the products were complete and balanced products. There is no set format for a survey, but whatever you use, it should be able to support your claim. State control officials may ask for data to substantiate any claims that are made on product labels.

    It should be pointed out that while “veterinarian recommended” requires a survey of a statistically sound number of veterinarians who recommend your product, it only takes one veterinarian to support the claim “veterinarian formulated”, or “veterinarian developed”, assuming that fact can be sufficiently documented.

    Reply

    • I guess it will be up to the courts to make that determination, what is a statistically sound number? I don’t know what has been ruled on in the past regarding what constitutes a statistically sound number, perhaps the legal team can weigh in on this? I was told I could ask them any questions, so I will ask what they found in their research for this case.

      Reply

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