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Judge: Evidence lacking in class action alleging Orijen dog food was harmful to pets

By Charmaine Little | Feb 12, 2019


MILWAUKEE, Wis. (Legal Newsline) – A federal judge in Wisconsin has dismissed a class action lawsuit, finding no evidence to support allegations that a brand of dog food was contaminated with heavy metals.

U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller of the Eastern District of Wisconsin dismissed with prejudice a case against Champion Petfoods. The lawsuit alleged the companies falsified the quality of the food. 

Champion Petfoods is the maker of Orijen and Acana dog foods. Loeb alleged Orijen Original and Orijen Senior contained lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury at excessive and unsafe levels. She filed a class action lawsuit with five claims, three of which were previously dismissed. 

Stadtmueller granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed the lawsuit.

The ruling states that the defendants did not intentionally add heavy metals to the products and that they were naturally occurring and present in the plants and animals processed into the food.

"Defendants have offered evidence that the presence of heavy metals in Orijen does not make the product harmful or dangerous. In 2005, the National Research Council published a study titled Mineral Tolerance of Animals (the 'MTA'). The MTA describes maximum tolerable levels ('MTL') for various substances in pet food, including the heavy metals at issue here," Stadtmueller wrote.

"According to third-party lab studies commissioned by defendants, the levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury in defendants’ products are but a fraction of the MTLs. Plaintiff questions the reliability of these studies but has not performed any such studies on her own."

The ruling states the plaintiff provided evidence, including a Food and Drug Administration reference chart called Total Diet Study, and relied on it to compare the defendants' products with consumer-bound chicken, turkey and eggs. The ruling states she noted heavy metals in human food were lower, "implying that Orijen is tainted and unfit for human consumption."

“Plaintiff offers no contrary expert opinions,” Stadtmueller said as it pointed out the arguments she made was in hopes of undermining Champion’s expert witness. 

The court said these issues had no merit. While she did point out that there is a high amount of metal in the food, the court said it simply offers the heavy metal concentration that is in many store-bought foods. 

“It does not say whether those concentrations are safe, unsafe, or otherwise provide a scientific assessment of the data,” Stadtmueller wrote. Considering this, the court dismissed the WDTPA (Wisconsin Deceptive Trade Practices Act) claim.

Her unjust enrichment claim fell short as the court made clear she failed to connect the level of metal with any manipulative advertising statements the defendant made. It also added that she bought the pet food from pet stores, not from the defendant. The court concluded it was best to dismiss the case for the remaining counts.

“The court’s opinion is consistent with Champion Petfoods’ position that its food are safe and that the trace amounts of heavy metals are naturally occurring in the healthy ingredients used by Champion,” said the company’s trial counsel Dave Coulson in a press release. “We vigorously fought the allegations in this case and will do the same in any other cases that assert similar claims.”

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