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.

Comments (12) Write a comment

  1. As an unknowing consumer how can we really know what is in the food. We can read all the labels and they sound good but come to find out the food is not. Case in point I have been feeding Halo kibble and Holistic Select canned cat food because the ingredients appeared to be very good and all the rating sites ranked these companies among the best. However I find out now that while their ingredients may be real meat etc their processes or whatever actually contain more toxic heavy metals and such that rank them on the very bottom of the list of safe foods. Too late for my boy but trying to figure out what really I can feed the others without having to make my own food.


      • You would logically think so but in my research I found both of these companies as well as most of the supposedly higher quality ingredient foods are all extremely toxic because of all the heavy metals. And those will definitely cause organ failure. Other than making my own food which is not really an option I don’t even know what to get any more.


        • The toxic metals story is an exaggeration. Be careful with what you read. Often the studies authors have another agenda. But yes, making your own food is always the best solution!


          • So true I do know that different reports will yield different results based on who is paying for the study and or what they want to promote. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

  2. What exactly is wrong with feeding a dog heads, bones, feet and entrails? All of those are animal parts that dogs can eat … and should eat for their health. I’d rather have protein by-products than vegetable waste like beet pulp or tomato pomace in my dog food. At least the meat by products could be digested and used as food … unlike vegetable waste!


  3. I don’t think we should vilify Blue so much. Purina went after them because they were competition that needed to be eliminated, a company that actually tried to create a dog/cat food without all the hideous stuff that Purina was putting in their dog/cat food. It is possible that Blue did not know that it was getting substandard ingredients from these two companies but they should have tested the quality of the ingredients that they were ordering. However, I am doing research and finding a company other than Blue to purchase dog/cat food from. (I have one dog and several cats.)


  4. Hi, just found your site & was recently starting one of my 4 cats on Rad for cats. I read they have had problems but what is the status as of 6/2018. My boy loves the food but I am worried. Human food vs pet food ground at home
    Is human food from a store any better? Any suggestions?


    • The key is not to go crazy with details, cats in the wild hunt mice birds and bunnies, they expend a ton of energy hunting, once caught they gorge on the stomach and under belly area of the prey, when full they bury it or leave it for scavenger animals like birds dogs etc.
      the key is blood flesh and soft bones raw



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