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A major pet food ingredient supplier admitted to knowingly mislabeling low-cost ground poultry feathers and byproducts as turkey meal and selling it to pet food manufacturers as a premium, high-quality ingredient.
California-based feed supplier, Wilbur-Ellis Feed LLC, and Ballwin, Missouri-based commodities broker, Collin McAtee, pleaded guilty to mislabeling the adulterated ingredients in a federal court last month. The criminal case revealed that the supplier and commodities broker had been intentionally selling the low-cost ingredients for at least two years between 2012 and 2014.
The fraudulent activity was discovered when, in 2014, Nestlé Purina PetCare filed a lawsuit against Blue Buffalo when independent testing of the premium pet food showed that a substantial portion of Blue Buffalo pet food sold to consumers contained poultry by-product meal, despite advertising claims to the contrary.
Blue Buffalo, in turn, faced class action lawsuits costing the company $32 million. They settled the class action suits against them, but vehemently denied any wrongdoing and continued to pursue charges of fraud and misconduct by their supplier, Wilbur-Ellis Feed.
On April 25, Wilbur-Ellis Feed LLC, a California company, pleaded guilty to one count of adulteration or misbranding of food. On May 17, Collin McAtee, a co-owner of Diversified Ingredients Inc. of Ballwin, pleaded guilty to two counts of the same offense.
The St. Louis Dispatch reported that, Wilbur-Ellis Feed admitted substituting lower cost ingredients for premium, more expensive chicken and turkey meal in shipments from a plant in Rosser, Texas, to pet food manufacturers between June 2013 and May 2014. On one or more occasions, the plea says, that lower cost product was hydrolyzed poultry feathers or hydrolyzed feather meal, which consists of ground-up feathers.
It is currently unknown which other pet food brands in addition to Blue Buffalo, manufactured and sold pet food using the adulterated ingredients.
Both prosecutors and the company’s lawyers agreed to recommend three years of probation, restitution of $4.5 million, the forfeiture of nearly $1 million and a $1,000 fine.
For his part, McAtee, who admitted to altering documents and forging signatures to conceal the source of shipments, is facing misdemeanor charges and no more than a year in prison. Diversified Ingredients and Henry R. Rychlik, a Wilbur-Ellis employee who was responsible for the animal protein products at Rosser were also charged in the case. Both have pleaded not guilty.