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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Blue Buffalo....Lies, Misdirection, And Veterinary Distrust

Last year I reported on lawsuits between Purina and Blue Buffalo.  Purina claimed that Blue Buffalo included animal by-products and other ingredients in their diets that were not on the label and which their advertising stated they would never use.  Of course Blue Buffalo replied that these claims were outrageous, unfounded, and malicious.  They counter-sued for defamation of their brand and untrue claims.

Recently in the court case Blue Buffalo admitted that they did indeed have by-products in their foods.  In fact, it was a large portion of their foods and ingredients!  This was in complete contradiction to their previous statements.  I do want to give a disclamer that the information I'm sharing came from a Purina website dedicated to news about this case, so take it with a grain of salt.  However, I don't think the facts are incorrect, especially since Blue Buffalo admitted to it.  Here's a quote from the news release, dated May 7, 2015.

"Despite this admission, Blue Buffalo still has not informed consumers of the presence of poultry by-product meal in Blue Buffalo pet food, refuses to accept responsibility for the product it sold, and is instead blaming its suppliers," said Keith Schopp, a spokesperson for Nestlé Purina Petcare.

On May 6, 2014, Purina filed a lawsuit against Blue Buffalo for false advertising after testing revealed the presence of poultry by-product meal in some of Blue Buffalo's top selling pet foods. Blue Buffalo's CEO responded by immediately claiming the testing was "Voodoo Science" and assuring their customers that "Blue Buffalo does not use chicken by-product meal or poultry by-product meal in any of our products."

According to Schopp, "Only when faced with undeniable evidence from the lawsuit has Blue Buffalo admitted the truth to the court: a 'substantial' and 'material' portion of Blue Buffalo pet food sold over the past several years contained poultry by-product meal. It is unclear to us if or when this practice stopped, or whether any Blue Buffalo pet food containing by-product meal is still on store shelves."

It's been long discussed among veterinary nutritionists and practitioners that this company makes misleading statements about their foods and those of other companies.  Several years ago there was a problem with vitamin D toxicity in their diets, yet they did little to recall the foods and didn't make a wide-spread announcement.  Many vets don't like Blue Buffalo in large part because of extremely deceptive marketing practices, using a lot of guilt to imply that if you don't feed their food you hate your pet and are contributing to his/her early death.

Blue Buffalo is claiming previous ignorance of these ingredients in their foods.

 "Blue Buffalo now claims it had no way of knowing the bags contained by-product meal. A manufacturer is responsible for knowing what's in its product, and a simple audit of its supply chain would have revealed what we discovered after reviewing the documentation.

To me this is a particularly damning admission from the company.  They claim that they didn't know that their own foods contained by-products?  WHAT????  This is not as uncommon as consumers may think.  Only a few food companies own their own manufacturing plants and perform tests on every food batch.  Typically these are the larger companies, such as Purina, Iams, Hills, and Royal Canin.  Other companies, including Blue Buffalo, don't own the plants where the food is made.  They give another company the recipe and that company makes the food.  The food brand (in this case Blue Buffalo) has little oversight of the process and usually perform few analyses to ensure consistency and quality of the ingredients.

Would you trust a food company that could be so easily duped?  And to be honest, I have a hard time believing that they didn't have a clue as to by-products being used.  How irresponsible is it for them to not be checking these things when they make such a big deal of promoting the "benefits" of their food?

This has been a big discussion on the Veterinary Information Network (VIN).  Almost every vet who posts has stories about problems with dogs and cats on Blue Buffalo.  Most vets simply don't like and don't trust that brand.  Here are some choice quotes from veterinarians around the country and the world.

Well, they admit they WERE [using by-products], but they claim now they no longer are as they are no longer using that supplier. However, that doesn't relieve them of the responsibility they had for checking the ingredients of their food once challenged, or for informing their customers at the time....instead they chose to drag on a ridiculous legal and public relations hissy fit. They still have to accept responsibility for what was in their food, even if they were lied to.......much like the horrible melamine toxicity issues: those companies couldn't be blamed for an adulterated ingredient, but they still had to act responsibly once they knew the issue was there.

Can you just imagine how BB would have crucified anyone else who "didn't know what their supply chain was doing."

I cnnot and do not recommend Blue Bufalo.  In the ER world, many of the gastroenteritis cases we see are on this diet. 

I have seen so many cats with cystitis, stones, and/or crystals that are eating BB dry. Clearly there is something going on with their dry diets because as soon as we switch to a different diet, the urinary issues resolve. My clients also think I am psychic when they bring their cat in with a bladder stone and I ask them (without knowing their diet), how long have they been feeding BB. I think it is ridiculous and irresponsible of them as a major pet food company to not research their foods.

I don't recommend it, wouldn't carry it in my hospital. We seem to see a lot of GI problems with it but my main problem with them is their false advertising and the fact that they lied to me when I called them to ask where their food was made. Didn't say "We don't disclose that info" just plain lied.

Diarrhea, and horrible gas are the two biggest complaints I have with this food. Oh and the awful guilt driven marketing (if you aren't feeding blue buffalo you must hate dogs and want to kill yours).

I also had a sad case of a Pekingese with a grade 2 heart murmur that had been stable for 3 years go into CHF 3 weeks after starting Blue Buffalo. I contacted the company to find out the sodium content of the food she had started feeding. The representative who I spoke with on the phone told me they don't give out that kind of information and anyway their food is only meant to be fed to "healthy" dogs so its not their fault anyway. NOT a company good at dealing with veterinarians.     

Whether or not it is a good food is irrelevant to me. I find their marketing objectionable and only propagates the same myths over and over.

Some nutritionists are concerned that by-product/organ meat free foods are deficient in nutrition, particularly micronutrients. Given that the organ meats are a natural (and preferred) part of the carnivore and omnivore diet it seems ridiculous to adopt a marketing strategy and food that is devoid of them.

It may be that these veterinarians are vocal but a minority.  But reading the plethora of comments it doesn't seem that way.  And I know that many vets have no issue with Blue Buffalo.  Many of my clients are using it and I haven't seen a huge difference in their pets.  But anymore I can't recommend this food.

I found out the anti-Blue Buffalo opinions from a nutritional specialist teaching at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine about two years ago.  After speaking to her my eyes were opened and I sat on the fence about the foods.  I would tell clients her opinion and that the company was deceitful in their marketing practices, but I didn't actively recommend against it if the pet was doing well.  With this latest information my opinion of the company has quickly fallen, and I plan to talk to more clients about it and discourage their use of the brand.  I can no longer in any way support a company that is so full of lies, misinformation, and an inability to control the manufacturing quality of their own food.