Veterinarians call for evidence-based approach in wake of Beneful lawsuit
The usual hum of consumer-driven pet food chatter increased to a fever pitch this week as social media, blogs and the 24-hour news cycle chewed on the latest lawsuit against Nestlé Purina's Beneful dog food. Filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern California, the lawsuit—brought by pet owner Frank Lucido—claims that Beneful is to blame for the illness of two dogs and death of another. Lucido hopes others will join him in the class action suit.
Keith Schopp, Nestlé Purina PetCare's vice president of corporate public relations, released a statement stating there are no quality issues with Beneful. "We believe the lawsuit is baseless, and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves and our brand," Schopp says.
To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not identified a problem with Beneful dog food or issued a warning for the product as it has with jerky pet treats, which have been of high concern to consumers.
"There has been no substantiated evidence that Beneful has caused problems when fed to dogs. Poison control groups have not expressed concerns, nor has the FDA," says Stephen Ettinger, DVM, DACVIM, who serves as the Nestlé Purina Fellow in Veterinary Medicine.
"I understand that when an animal is sick, pet owners are upset and often look first to the pet’s food and environment as the cause," Ettinger says. "But when evaluated carefully, clinical signs more often are due to primary medical conditions."
The lawsuit states, "On information and belief, these illnesses and deaths were caused by substances in Beneful that are toxic to dogs." It points first to propylene glycol, an FDA-approved food and drug additive, which the suit calls "an automotive antifreeze component that is a known animal toxin." The lawsuit also mentions mycotoxins, a family of fungus that occurs in grains.
Jessica Vogelsang, DVM, the author behind the blog pawcurious.com, has recently addressed the topic of misinformation in the world of pet nutrition. Vogelsang says accusations that propylene glycol is toxic seem like a legal team grasping for straws. "We have to make sure—before we pull out the pitchforks—if we're going after the wrong thing," she says.
Ettinger says he has read many of the comments in the news and online regarding Beneful. "None provides evidenced-based rationale for making claims about Beneful having a negative impact on the health of a pet," he says.
Vogelsang echoes the need for evidence-based science. "If there's anything going on with your pet, you need to talk to your veterinarian and report to the manufacturer," she says.
She adds that process is essential to data collection and what leads to science-based investigations if they are warranted.
"I firmly believe that any abnormality noted by a pet’s owner should be brought to the attention of their veterinarian," Ettinger says. "Concerns regarding a particular product should immediately be brought to the attention of the manufacturer so that information can be collected and product appropriately monitored. The veterinarian and the pet owner then can decide whether to contact the FDA," he says. The FDA's Safety Reporting Portal can be found at safetyreporting.hhs.gov.
"People need to take everything with a grain of salt," Vogelsang says. "This lawsuit by itself would not be reason enough for me [to discontinue use] if my pet were doing well. If there's proof—that's a different story."
Beneful has faced two previous class actions suits regarding Beneful in recent years. Both were dismissed in court.