As premium dog food brands which claim to use higher quality and more appealing ingredients grow in market share, some traditional market leaders are pushing back in court. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, which produces Science Diet brand pet foods, has been aggressively pursuing manufacturers which it feels have used deceptive advertising for their products. Blue Buffalo is their most recent target; Hills objected to their use of the phrase “Contains no by-products” when promoting Blue Buffalo products which contain fish meal, lamb meal, and liver. Hills claims that guidelines for the meal ingredients do allow parts of the fish and sheep in the meal that most consumers would consider by-products; they also consider liver a by-product. Based on the NAD’s ruling Blue Buffalo altered its advertising and web site (note carefully worded promises in sidebar) to conform to Hill’s demands, but has not altered its packaging, claiming the agency to which Hills complained, the National Advertising Division (NAD) did not have jurisdiction over packaging claims. Blue Buffalo has said it intends to appeal this decision which was announced in May, 2009.
Pet food nutrition standards and labeling requirements were developed well before the current surge in interest in “human grade”, “organic”, and “natural” foods. As a matter of fact, none of these terms has a regulated meaning for pet foods so manufacturers can use them at will, with consumers having to decide for themselves whether the description is accurate.