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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Yup. You been swindled

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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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