Heads, Feathers, and Feet Substituted For Fancy Pet Food Ingredients; Suppliers Plead Guilty to Food Fraud

Feed ingredient giant Wilbur-Ellis and commodities broker Collin McAtee of Diversified Ingredients pleaded guilty to mislabeling pet food ingredients for years, substituting crummy old feather meal, and by-products that included heads, bones, feet, and entrails for premium ingredients, according to two guilty pleas entered in federal court.

Wilbur-Ellis admitted swapping hydrolyzed poultry feathers or hydrolyzed feather meal for chicken and turkey meal to an undisclosed number of pet food manufacturers. Wilbur-Ellis agreed to three years probation, restitution of $4.5 million, the forfeiture of nearly $1 million and a $1,000 fine.

McAtee, a trader, broker and co-owner of Diversified Ingredients, admitted in his plea that the pet food companies that were his company’s clients received adulterated and misbranded pet food ingredients could face up to a year in prison.


The criminal case sprang from discoveries made during the epic lawsuit by Nestlé Purina PetCare against Blue Buffalo in 2014. Nestlé accused Blue Buffalo of selling its so-called premium pet food when it was made with second-rate ingredients contrary to Blue’s claim that it was America’s “No. 1 brand in the Wholesome Natural market.”

Nestlé claimed that lab analysis found that Blue’s super-premium pet food contained the very ingredients that Blue vilified, ingredients such as poultry by-product meals, grains, and artificial preservatives.


Blue shot back and claimed Nestlé’s lab analysis was “junk science” and countersued Nestlé claiming that the complaint was a publicity stunt and “a smear campaign” borne out of fear of losing business to Blue.

But then, in shame of all shames, Blue later had to admit Nestlé was right when it learned that some of its pet food did contain the much-maligned poultry by-products. But instead of accepting responsibility for verifying the quality of the ingredients used in their pet food, Blue placed the blame for using the crappy ingredients entirely on the companies that sold it to them: Wilbur-Ellis and Diversified. Naturally, the embarrassing discovery prompted Blue in turn to sue their suppliers.


Diversified, in turn, filed complaints against Wilbur-Ellis and Custom Ag Commodities alleging the two companies colluded in a cover-up to substitute inferior ingredients for higher priced – and better quality – ingredients. Diversified claimed they were sold “cheap, low-grade meal blended with beaks, feet, viscera, feathers and other byproducts” instead of “high-quality chicken and turkey meal without animal byproducts and feathers.”

Wilbur-Ellis meanwhile fired a shot back at Blue, claiming Blue either “knew or should have known about the composition and nature of the ingredients.” In scorching reply, the company complained that Blue “hurled the kitchen sink at Wilbur-Ellis,” whining that Blue’s “scorched-earth approach unnecessarily burdens Wilbur-Ellis and Diversified.”


While witnessing the open warfare between the pet food industry giants, consumers, pissed off that they were being ripped off too, naturally took the opportunity to sue Blue for false advertising.

Blue, realizing, I suppose, they hadn’t a hope in hell of defending their premium pet food claim in the face of feather meal in their not-so-premium-after-all pet food, settled the case for $32 million.

What does all of this legal hand-wringing, suits and countersuits, teeth-gnashing courtroom battles and multi-million-dollar settlements, and pissed off consumers tell the pet food industry?

Pay very close attention to what you put in your pet food because if your customers don’t sue you, your competitors will.


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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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