Class actions say Purina, Wellpet brand 'made in USA' dog foods actually aren't

By Scott Holland | Feb 2, 2016

UPDATE: Federal court records indicate these lawsuits were voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiffs on June 17, 2016.

A woman and dog owner from west central Illinois has brought class action lawsuits against two dog food makers, alleging their kibble, while marketed as “made in the USA,” actually includes ingredients sourced from outside the U.S., placing American dogs at risk and violating state consumer fraud laws.

Marsha Sensenig, of Lee County, filed her complaints Feb. 1 in federal court in Rockford against Nestle and Wellpet.

Sensenig’s complaint against Nestle focused on its Purina brand, and specifically the Ultramix Grain Free and Poultry Free adult dog food product. The complaint said Sensenig is unsure of who actually manufactures the dog food because, last July, Nestle acquired Merrick Pet Care Company, a Hereford, Texas, organic pet food maker that itself marketed under the brand name Castor & Pollux Natural Petworks, or C&P. Merrick had itself acquired the C&P brand name recently, as well.

All of the Ultramix products, as well as Nestle-branded Organix products, carry labels reading, “Made with Love IN THE USA.” However, Sensenig asserted those labels are false because the “food contains ingredients sourced from foreign countries. As one example, these products contain tapioca, a gluten-free starch made from the cassava root” sourced from foreign countries. Further, the food’s ingredients include vitamin, mineral, and amino acid packs sourced outside the United States.”

Sensenig said the allegedly misleading labeling prompted her to believe the dog foods and their component ingredients were all made in and sourced in the U.S., causing her to willingly pay more for the food than she believes she should have in an effort to provide her dog with allegedly safer food.

Country of origin is important, she noted, because pet food recalls frequently attributed to “adulterated foreign-sourced ingredients have been rampant in recent years. …

“Recalls as recent as this month were issued because of contamination with listeria bacteria, salmonella, propylene glycol (an ingredient not approved for cat foods because of toxicity), mold, Amantadine (an antiviral human drug not approved for use in animal food), elevated and toxic levels of Vitamin D, heavy metals and others,” Sensenig alleged in her complaint.

Nestle’s other pet foods containing the “Made with Love IN THE USA” label are falsely marketed, she said, because the Vitamin C used in each product is not an American product.

Sensenig asserted laws in Illinois, as well as California, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Washington, all forbid this kind of marketing, and she asked the court to expand a potential plaintiff class to include residents of those other states, as well. She also offered the court the option to certify an Illinois-only class.

The complaint alleged one violation of the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act and one of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act and a third count to cover violations of the similar statutes in the other states, as well. In addition to class certification and a jury trial, Sensenig asked the court to award compensatory and punitive damages of at least $5 million for class members.

Sensenig brought virtualy identical allegations in a separate class action complaint also filed Feb. 1 against Wellpet, of Tewksbury, Mass., maker of Wellness dog and cat food, Eagle Pack dog food and Holisitic Select dog food. As with the Nestle complaint, Sensenig noted Wellpet uses foreign-sourced vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin C.

As with Nestle, she said these ingredients are a “significant part” of Wellpets’ foods “because all of these products are labeled with a core product description ‘with added vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients for wellbeing,’ or a similarly worded description. Therefore, under the guidelines of the Federal Trade Commission, the use of the phrase ‘made in the USA’ on the labels is deceptive.”

Attorneys for Sensenig include John E. Norris, of Davis & Norris, Birmingham, Ala., and Gerald Bekkerman and Jennifer Bekkerman, of Chicago.

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Bekkerman Law Offices LLC Davis & Norris LLP

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