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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, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.

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