Tuesday, June 10, 2008
The Daily Business Review reports that animal owners are seeking class certification over a new type of pet food class action that resembles a false-advertising claim. They claim that certain advertisements make false claims about the contents of pet food, when in reality the food contains unsavory ingredients. Here's an excerpt:
The pet food companies claimed they are allowed to use words, such as "complete and balanced," "veterinarian recommended" and "natural" in advertising as authorized by the Association of American Feed Control Officials and approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The defense claims the allegations in the lawsuit castigating the entire pet food industry are culled from the Internet.
Altonaga didn't buy it.
"Defendants do not assert that the FDA or any other regulatory body has specifically approved the advertisement or statements at issue in this action, and nothing in the AAFCO standards authorizes defendants to engage in false advertising," Altonaga wrote in her order.
The 84-page, fourth-amended complaint filed April 11 names seven pet food manufacturers: Tennessee-based Mars Petcare, Ohio-based Iams, Kansas-headquartered Hill's Pet Nutrition -- makers of Science Diet, California-based Del Monte Foods, Missouri-based Nestle Purina Petcare, California-based Nutro Products and California-based Natura Pet Products.
Also named are some large retailers: Target, Wal-Mart, Publix Supermarkets, Kroger and Albertsons, as well as pet specialty stores PetSmart, Pet Supermarket, Petco Animal Supplies and Pet Supplies "Plus/USA."
The pet owners seek damages and injunctive relief to prevent pet food companies from advertising their product is akin to human food.
One other defendant is Menu Foods, a Canadian-based packing concern, which really opened the door to litigation nationwide against pet food companies.
Last week, five pet food companies won preliminary court approval of a $24 million settlement in New Jersey of class action lawsuits for selling tainted food. The lawsuits were filed after Menu Foods said more than 180 brands of foods and treats needed to be recalled because they contained melamine-tainted wheat gluten imported from China. About 1,950 cats and 2,200 dogs died from kidney failure from eating melamine-contaminated pet food, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
The Florida lawsuit, though, takes a different path than the Menu Food class action litigation."I think this is a different case because it focuses on advertising as opposed to content of food and the damage done to pets," said attorney Marcos Jimenez, who represented retailers Safeway and Stop & Shop Supermarkets, which were dropped as defendants in the Florida case.
"It's more of a false advertising-type of case than product liability."
The lawsuit alleges defendants "humanize" pet food by, among other things, including pictures or drawings of human-grade ingredients. "Defendants' marketing makes numerous deceptive and/or false claims," the lawsuit alleges.