Companies to pay $7M for pet food fraud

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Updated Nov. 20, 2018

Dog being offered a bowl of foodTwo companies will pay $7 million after admitting that they omitted poultry meal from pet foods or replaced it with feather and bone meals.

Wilbur-Ellis Co., which makes ingredients used in the pet food industry, will pay about $4.5 million in restitution and $1 million in criminal forfeitures, according to an Oct. 11 announcement from the Department of Justice. Company officials pleaded guilty in April to introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court in St. Louis.

Diversified Ingredients Inc., a commodities broker in pet food industries, will pay $1.5 million in restitution and $75,000 in criminal forfeiture. That company's leaders pleaded guilty in July to introducing adulterated and misbranded foods.

The DOJ announcement states that Wilbur-Ellis officials in Rosser, Texas, replaced chicken and turkey meal with cheaper substitutes, such as feather meal and feed-grade chicken bone byproduct meal. They also omitted ingredients, including the turkey meal in a product identified as turkey meal.

Both companies were accused of shipping fraudulent ingredients from January-April 2014.

One employee of each company also has pleaded guilty to misbranding and adulteration charges: Henry R. Rychlik, who was a quality manager responsible for product formulations at the Texas facility, and Collin McAtee, who bought, sold, and shipped foods for Diversified Ingredients. At press time, both were scheduled for sentencing Dec. 14.

Wilbur-Ellis leaders provided a statement that blames the fraud on a former owner of a company Wilbur-Ellis bought in 2011. The former owners of American By-Products Inc. had continued working as managers at the manufacturing facility in Texas.

"For our part, Wilbur-Ellis acknowledges insufficient oversight processes in place at the time," Wilbur-Ellis officials said in the statement. "While the safety and nutrition of our pet food ingredients were never called into question, we have taken this matter very seriously and have strengthened oversight processes over the past several years."

Among the former owners listed on a 2011 press release when Wilbur-Ellis bought American By-Products, none have been charged with any crimes.

Daniel D. Doyle, who is an attorney for Diversified Ingredients, said his clients learned about the fraud from the Wilbur-Ellis plant during a lawsuit filed in 2014, when Nestle Purina PetCare Co. had accused Blue Buffalo Co. Ltd. of making false claims about Blue Buffalo's pet food ingredients. He said Diversified Ingredients officials had no intent to defraud people.

Doyle said his clients had relied on their customers to perform quality assurance–related testing, and Diversified Ingredients since has added more quality assurance activities including audits of suppliers.

Correction: Nestle Purina PetCare Co. and Blue Buffalo settled a lawsuit and countersuit in 2016. A previous version of this article said the lawsuits were ongoing.