After dog death, pet food firm sued for adulteration

An American couple are suing a dog food company for $5m, claiming their dog died after eating canned food laced with a veterinary euthanasia drug.

Nicole and Guy Mael have filed the class action lawsuit against premium pet food producers Evanger's Dog and Cat Food Co. Inc. and its sister company Nutripack LLC, accusing the firms of negligence, fraud and misrepresentation, and are demanding a jury trial.

The lawsuit follows the death of the Mael's dog Talula on New Year's Eve after eating Evanger's brand 'Hunk of Beef Au Jus'. The couple's other four dogs also became ill after eating the food, "acting listless and non-responsive". These four dogs survived but one is being treated for seizures.

Lab tests of Talula's stomach contents and leftover food from the can revealed the presence of a large quantity of the chemical pentobarbital, which is used as a euthanasia drug in animals and in the execution of humans.

The US Food and Drug Administration also analysed the premium-priced dog food, specifically sealed cans of Evanger's Hunk of Beef Au Jus and Against The Grain branded Pulled Beef with Gravy, and confirmed contamination with the drug.

Pet food, sourced from healthy slaughtered animals, should be free of pentobarbital. It's presence in pet food suggests the meat was sourced from animals that had not been deemed healthy enough for traditional slaughter methods; that is, meat was sourced from animals that had been euthanised.

An FDA investigation of Evanger's and Nutripack's production facilities, both in Illinois, USA, also revealed unsanitary conditions and several instances of alleged food fraud.

According to court documents, the pet food was allegedly "advertised as premium, '100 per cent beef', and 'human grade, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspected meat', but instead were composed of low quality, non-human grade ingredients and were produced at an unsanitary, non-USDA facility. Many of the pet foods were unsafe, adulterated meats, not from animals that were identified on the labels, and contained pentobarbital… The pet foods were unsafe for animals to consume and should not have been sold under the law."

According to Evanger's website, the price of Evanger's Hunk of Beef is $3.07 per can, while the price of its Against the Grain's Pulled Beef is $3.10 a can.

In addition, it was discovered that Evanger's beef suppliers were not inspected by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services, while further testing found trace amounts of pork and horse in products labelled 100 per cent beef.

In February, Evanger's, which claims to be a '5-star' rated pet food, announced a product recall for certain products, which was then extended in March.

Court documents claim the lawsuit has been brought on behalf of the couple "and all others similarly situated and the general public". The plaintiffs believe "thousands of consumers" may have purchased the contaminated dog food.

The Mael's seek to "halt the dissemination of defendants' deceptive advertising and marketing; correct the false and misleading perception defendants has created in the minds of consumers through their misrepresentations; and secure redress for consumers who have purchased one or more of defendants' pet foods, including not only the cost of the pet foods, but also any veterinarian costs related to the consumption of the pet foods".

The adulteration scandal grew for Evanger's when problems also arose in pet food by separate company Party Animal, which outsources its production and packaging to Evanger's.

According to the court documents: "Despite insisting that no other products were impacted by the recalls, on April 13, 2017, three and a half months after Talula died, another dog became ill after eating Party Animal pet food - manufactured by Evanger's. The Party Animal products also tested positive for pentobarbital."

Several days later Party Animal publicly recalled its Cocolicious Beef and Turkey dog food and Cocolicious Chicken and Beef dog food. The company has now sued Evanger's for damages based on the misrepresented meat that Evanger's sold to it, as well as damages covering refunds as a result of the recall and vet bills.

There have been several pet food scandals over the years. In 2002, the FDA investigated and reported on the presence of pentobarbital in pet food following concerns from vets that the drug was losing its effectiveness as an anaesthetic. The FDA did not take action on its findings from the investigation.

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