Cat-dog-pet food face-off

Natura Pet Food Settles Class Action Lawsuit; Consumers Get Shafted – Again

UPDATE June, 18, 2013: Checks for the Natura Pet Products Class Action Lawsuit Settlement were mailed starting June 14, 2013.

The Natura Pet Products settlement resolves a 2011 class action lawsuit (Ko v. Natura Pet Products Inc.) that accused Natura of making false and misleading statements about the human-grade quality of its pet food. These products included Innova, EVO, California Natural, HealthWise, Mother Nature and Karma dog and cat food.

Innova denied the allegations but agreed to create a $2.15 million class action settlement fund to refund consumers and resolve the litigation.

A federal court approved the Natura Pet Products settlement on September 10, 2012, but payments were held up by an appeal filed by an objector to the settlement.

The appeal was dismissed in April 2013, and checks were mailed to qualifying Class Members on June 14. Settlement checks must be cashed or deposited within 120 days of issue.

Most Class Members are reporting they received checks for a lousy stinkin’ $43.90.

Human grade, my eye

A federal judge has entered an order for preliminary approval of a class action settlement of a class action lawsuit against Natura Pet Products, Inc., alleging, among other things, that Natura when advertising their dog and cat food products  made false and misleading statements about the human grade quality of its food in its advertisements, promotional materials and labeling.

The settlement

A $2,150,000 settlement fund will be created by Natura under the class action settlement. Natura will also stop promoting its pet food products as human grade, human quality, or as something that you would eat yourself.

All persons residing in the United States who purchased any Natura Product for personal, family, or household purposes (the “Class”) during the time period from March 20, 2005 to July 8, 2011 (the “Class Period”). To get a payment (of up to $200), settlement class members must submit a claim form by January 8, 2012.

The lies

The upshot: Natura lied to consumers. It’s that simple. Others call it fraud, deceptive marketing, mislabeled goods, I call it sleazy. But it’s not just sleazy, sleazy is changing the weight of the contents and charging the same amount as the old size; it’s criminal.

This practice goes to the heart of pet food industries business model and is as old as the history of commercial pet food:  the schizophrenic marketing of shaming consumers to discontinue the unhealthy practice of feeding table scraps to pets, while convincing them the superior diet for pets is a commercial pet food made of ingredients “you would eat yourself“, yet is made entirely from food not fit for human consumption; waste from human food manufacturing.

The swindle

This is how it works: unless the food is manufactured in a facility certified for human food manufacturing, it is illegal to make the human-grade/quality claim on a pet food package or collateral processed of a pet food manufactured in a pet food/animal feed plant.

Unless the manufacturer is making the food in a human food facility, the claim human-grade is misleading, false and fraudulent.

It’s not just a matter of the type of manufacturing facility, but how the food is handled and transported, because the laws governing human food manufacturing are vastly different from the laws pertaining to pet food and animal feed.

The Bust

The woman who initiated the lawsuit is Judy Ko. She filed the action on behalf of herself and all other people similarly situated and on behalf of the general public, alleging unlawful, fraudulent and unfair business acts and practices in violation of California business & professions code § 17200.

Q & A

Q. Why were other manufacturers who make the same claims were not included in this lawsuit?

A. Defendant class actions are possible but impractical in this circumstance.

Q. How is the message going to get out to the other petsumers who don’t read this fabulous blog?

A. Conditions of the settlement require Natura to place the Summary Notice in Parade, U.S.A. Weekend, Better Homes & Gardens, National Geographic, Relish, Dog Fancy, and Cat Fancy publications.

If, after 45 days, it does not generate at least 8,000 claims, the administrator will write a press release via PR Newswire, create a FB page, place sponsored link text ads on Google, Yahoo, Bing, and/or AOL, place banner display ads on Google and Yahoo, and to create a settlement website www.petproductssettlement.com.

The summary notice that will be published can be viewed here.

Q. How do you know if you are entitled to some o’ that lettuce?

A. Simply put, the class action includes anyone in the US who purchased a Natura pet food product between March 2005 and July 2011. It’s OK if you threw out your receipts, because no proof of purchase is necessary.

Q. What if you think the settlement stinks?

A. Well, you can tell them so, formally, in writing! The Court will consider your ranting raving views before making a decision. To object, you must send a letter stating that you object to the settlement and the reasons why you object to the settlement. Send letters to the addresses listed at: http://www.petproductssettlement.com/EN/faq, postmarked by December 2011.

Q. Can I go to the next settlement hearing and tell Natura I think they suck?

A. You sure can!  If any of you live near San Jose, California, you can go to the actual hearing and give them a piece of your mind! The court will hold a fairness hearing on February 17, 2012, to decide whether to approve the settlement at which time the court will consider whether the settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate. If the judge approves the settlement, there may be appeals. Details on the protocol for speaking at the hearing are at the link above.

But, do not despair, if you don’t live near San Jose, a letter of objection will do in a pinch. I strongly urge every single one of you who purchased a Natura Pet Food to do so. The settlement is inadequate. It should be punitive.

Q. Just how exactly is that settlement money going to be divided up, anyhow?

A. I wish I had good news, but as usual the lawyers come out smelling like a rose and the consumer gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop. The following is a rundown of how the settlement money will be allocated, assuming the settlement amount remains at a paltry $2,150,000 million. Read it and weep:

The Math

Class council (up to) $752,500
Plus their expenses (up to) $60,000
Class representative (up to) $20,000
Administrative cost (max) $400,000
Total: $1,232,500
Money remaining for consumers: $917,500
Once it’s divided by 8,000 claims: $114

So, if you fed your pet the six years the settlement allows, you’d get a lousy $19 for every year you were lied to by Natura.

Gee, thanks a bunch.

In a Perfect World

My hope is that, although the financial settlement is a small one, the publicity may serve as a deterrent to other manufacturers who still make such claims will discontinue doing so.

A business’ success or failure is almost entirely dependent on public perception. Although Natura’s financial settlement will be of little consequence to them, I believe the more significant loss will be that of consumer confidence, loyalty and trust in Natura and in the industry as a whole.

For more information on the class action settlement, visit: www.petproductssettlement.com

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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 (25) Write a comment

  1. This article really doesn’t make sense. The laws governing human facilities vs. pet facilities proves NOTHING. The laws differ from state to town/city to type of manufacturing regardless if you are doing any different type of food business.

    They got in trouble for a label claim. Point blank. Here it says they were treating their product with more respect and commitment than other pet facilities. That shouldn’t be something people complain about…. They were sued for mislabeling. Not for actually doing anything harmful to animals….

    Reply

  2. I submitted my claim form online before the Jan 2012 deadline. When should we expect to be contacted ???

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  3. I just came home from a pet exp in green bay, wi. After talking with a natura vendor, I brought home a free sample of the California Natural- Kangaroo and Red lentil formula. I gave my 16 lb 2 year old dog a palm full as a treat to see if he even liked it. He loved it. I hope to god I haven’t poisoned him! I can not beleive what I read. I also brought home Earthborn Holistic. Manufactured by Midwestern Pet food,inc out of Evansville,IN. Do you know any thing about them? The vendor was the owner and talked a good story. I hope this one is safe. Thank-you.

    Reply

    • I don’t know about those brands in particular (although I have to say I am not a fan of Natura and I don’t like California Natural, it’s neither Natural, nor from California for starters), the best thing to do is call them up and ask them, “are ANY of your ingredients (including your supplements or vitamin pre-mix) sourced from China?” If they won’t say you don’t buy. Plain and simple.

      It’s really easy to make your own – baked sweet potato or baked chewy chicken strips, you name it! Just stay away from adding flour and sugar, for example. Plus, try shopping at the health food store and see if they have jerky (for humans) there. Or special order it from one of their meat vendors.

      Legally, they don’t have to say where it is from on the package and pet treats are exempt from COOL laws.

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      • Natura was the best on the market at that time. They used food that was consumable by humans, just not processed in a human facility. SO that was the issue. You are misleading comsumers. Sad ending for a great product!!!! That saved many of my clients pets from being put down (BEFORE IT WAS SOLD OUT TO P & G)

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  4. I just heard about the lawsuit this week. I was and still am in shock and utter disbelief. I remember a few years back when the melamine scare was going on, being concerned. At that time I was feeding my girls (cats) California Natural. I called the company and had a lengthy conversation with the rep. regarding their food, its origins, manufacturing, etc. I was told they never buy any materials from China, they supervise the process from beginning to end except for one plant that was in Kansas. She said they wanted to have complete control and were in the process of building and obtaining their own facility so they would be able to watch and monitor the entire process. Since my girls are older, I had switched them to EVO to eliminate the grains from their diets. I can’t say I notice any issues due to their diet, but if what is written is true, I am appalled and saddened that I have been lied to straight to my face. I knew P&G bought Natura out last year, but have not been able to find a good replacement yet.

    I did try a raw diet product once, but one of my girls wouldn’t even go near it. When my financial situation improves, I intend to start making home cooked meals for my babies. Thank you for all this information.

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  5. My sweet little boy Shih TZu just died from Pancreatitis and liver failure. We tried for 6 weeks to save him. After over $3,000.00 we knew he could not make it. I would have paid more to have him back and not having to suffer. He was eating Natures Balance, but the last bag was different and evidently is the culprit. After he died I was doing more research on Pancreatitis and on a general seach ended up on a page that was talking about a pet that just died with the same symptoms after eating Natural Balance. I am furious and terrible sad to see what has been going on in the pet food industry. I have filed with the FDA and encourage others to do the same. I wrote a complaint for consumeraffairs.com as well. If your pet is killed by a suspected pet food and you can have an autopsy on your pet and keep the food, it will help to nail these evil people who should be thrown to the lions as food. I have looked for a pet food with ethics and honor and have found few choices. I am making food for my little girl. Fortunately she only had a severe allergic reaction to the food. If your pet won’t eat it, take it back.

    Reply

    • Pam, I cannot tell you how sad I am to hear of your loss. It makes me cry.

      I’m so glad you have taken action despite the terrible loss you have suffered. You are doing the right thing, taking action, doing research, making your own food, and spreading the word. Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy of this magnitude to open our eyes, as was the case with me and for others like us.

      People need to hear about these kinds of stories, loudly and often! There are a handful of companies I trust, but only a handful. I have researched pet food for years and still, I am horrified on a daily basis by the stories I read about the industry. This has got to stop. It takes the courage of people like yourself to make it known that pet food killed your baby.

      I am so sorry for your loss, your poor sweet baby should never have had to die this way…It is criminal.

      My heart is with you,

      Mollie

      Reply

    • Pam, Do you still have the bag? If you do, I can tell you where to have the food tested. It’s not that expensive and you might have a case against those bastards.

      Can your vet establish it was a dietary issue that led to the pancreatitis and liver failure? Make sure he or she can, it is vital for legal reasons.

      God, I hope you didn’t throw the bag away. Let me know, I can advise you on how to proceed.

      These bastards have got to be stopped or more pets will die.

      I’ll e-mail you with my phone number so you can call me.

      Mollie

      Reply

  6. I got a email about this class action settlement. My first words out of my mouth was no way and had to laugh at the amount for the settlement. I have a great dane and a yorkie that was eating Innova. What I would like to know is what is really in the food. I thought I was dealing with a very good company. If you go on their site they even show how clean their factory is and how they test the food and know where every bag is at in the stores. I didn’t even know that P&G bought the company in 2010. Which I have no doubt in my mind that they already have cheapen the food even more and still charging the high prices for the food. So I will be writing a letter of ojection and going to send it certified mail with a receipt. I’m really getting sick of this crap in our pet foods you should be able to go in the store and pick any pet food off the shelf without having to worry about whats in it harming your pet.

    Reply

    • You go girl!! That’s what I like – a pissed off pet parent, whose mad and isn’t going to take it any more!! As far as knowing what is in it – we’ll never know the quality of the ingredients, unless a whistleblower steps up to the plate (no pun intended), and spills the beans. This was not a frivolous lawsuit, the plaintiff had information that contradicted what the manufacturer said. But, unless someone leaks those briefs to the public, we will never know. Regardless, the term natural, holistic, and healthy are ambiguous terms in the pfi and there is no official definition for them in the pf industry. So, like any good corporate business, they use those terms to attract consumers. It’s all marketing bullshit – smoke and mirrors.

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  7. All this crime against the pets we love so much, makes me want to rent a blimp with one of those huge trailing signs and fly it over every big or semi-big city in America. Then when their phones are ringing off the hook, fly it over Natura’s headquarters… then over Procter and Gamble. Let’s see, what would the sign say? Any suggestions?

    For me I can hardly tolerate walking through my local grocery store, a long row of crap in bags for innocent dogs and cats, without having a heart wrenching feeling. It seems that people will be buying this stuff til doomsday. Micheal Moore, where are you??!!

    Thanks to Susan and Mollie, and other bloggers, the word is getting around; and by word of mouth, lives will be saved. Keep up the good work!

    And to Elizabeth who just wrote: Sock it to them!! [ And I am glad your Chuckie was saved in time.]

    Reply

    • Thanks Mom! It’s nice to know my Mom is my biggest supporter. I love it, she’s like my PR manager, telling everyone how fabulous my work is and pushing my blog address on them. She thinks I should have business cards made up to hand out to shoppers. I don’t want to shame anyone because they don’t know how bad supermarket and big box store brands are. I didn’t really know either, until Blackie got sick and kept getting sick with FUS, poor baby.

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  8. Dear Mollie, I saw the Natura Petfood lawsuit ad in Parade magazine this past Sunday and was shocked. My dog Chuckie became inexplicably very ill during the summer of the melamine dogfood tragedy. I didn’t know what was going on with petfood at the time. I just knew Chuckie was horribly sick, and I thought he was going to die. He was eating Nutrapro at the time, Sensitive Stomach recipe. After that incident, he developed chronic IBS, and I spent years trying to find a simple commercial dogfood that would meet his nutritional needs. I thought I had finally found that dogfood in California Natural chicken and rice. He has done well on it. But I have to admit that there have been a few times when I wondered if it, too, was all it was touted to be. Now my fears are renewed. I never knew P & G bought Natura out. UGH!

    I am inclined to agree with you that people should take the time to officially object to a mere punitive settlement. $200 for a class action suit settlement isn’t a drop in the bucket of what I spent on vet bills for Chuckie when he got ill. A settlement would only push everything under the carpet while a real court case would help bring into glaring view what pet food companies are doing every day to sicken and threaten the lives of our beloved animals.

    I will take the time to raise an objection, and I appreciate your pointing that option out to me in such an apt fashion.

    Elizabeth Singleton
    Alexandria, VA

    Reply

    • Thanks Susan! I have so much fun doing it too. I have a wicked sense of humor and as an artist I pay special attention to images because they can shift the tone of an otherwise depressing topic. That’s why I sprinkle in these silly or heartwarming stories now and again, that have nothing to do with pet food, otherwise I could not bear it.

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  9. Hi Mollie, thanks for the blog. I did read this on Susan’s newsletter. This is more disturbing news. Have you noticed how all the formerly reputable, small pet food companies that once thrived on our business have sold out to Big Corporations? The circle of reputable companies is closing faster than a camera shutter. What a dilemma for pet-owners who want to do the right thing!

    Reply

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