Orijen/Acana Lawsuit: What You Should Know

This class-action lawsuit may not hold up to scrutiny, but it does demonstrate one thing: Consumers are getting more vocal about pet food safety.

Champion Petfoods says the metals in Orijen and Acana are found in “minuscule amounts.”

Have 2 top-rated pet food brands been exposed as frauds? Or, has a “shady” lawsuit filed last month set out to do little other than trash these pet foods’ stellar reputations?

Depending on whom you ask, you’ll probably get a different answer.

On March 1, 2018, a class-action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court (Central District of California) against Champion Petfoods, maker of premium pet food brands Orijen and Acana, accusing the company of “negligent, reckless” practices, false advertising, and “failing to disclose the presence of heavy metals and toxins” in its pet foods.

The basis for this lawsuit is that Orijen and Acana allegedly contain “levels” of arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium and BPA, which the suit says are “all known to pose health risks to humans and animals,” while the foods market themselves as using “fresh, natural ingredients.”

One of the 3 primary plaintiffs, Jennifer Reitman, claims her dogs “were getting sick” after 4 years of her feeding them a variety of dog foods made by Champion Petfoods, specifically:

  • Orijen Six Fish Dry Dog Food
  • Acana Lamb & Apple Singles Formula Dry Dog Food
  • Acana Duck & Pear Singles Formula Dry Dog Food
  • Acana Regionals Grasslands Dry Dog Food

Other varieties singled out by the lawsuit include:

  • Orijen Original Dry Dog Food
  • Orijen Regional Red Dry Dog Food
  • Acana Regionals Meadowland Dry Dog Food
  • Acana Regionals Wild Atlantic Dry Dog Food

The lawsuit says past testing by the Clean Label Project has demonstrated that these products contain heavy metals and BPA. For example, the Clean Label Project awarded Orijen Six Fish a mere 1 star (out of a possible 5) in the category of “Heavy Metals (Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead and Mercury)” — meaning that Orijen Six Fish has a higher level of these metals than other brands of dog food.

Petful subscriber Terry M., a service dog trainer, echoed many others we’ve heard from over the past few weeks when he told us he doesn’t know what to think: “I am concerned, skeptical and frightened at the same time. We use Orijen dog food, and so do my clients.”

“Meritless” Lawsuit?

Champion Petfoods has slammed the lawsuit, calling the allegations “meritless and based on misinterpretation of the data.”

“While we plan to comprehensively refute the wide range of false allegations in a court of law at the appropriate date, in the interim we want you to be confident in the safety and quality of our products,” the company said in a statement posted on Facebook.

It’s not uncommon to find heavy metals and/or toxins in pet food. In fact, the FDA has put in place a set of standards for them — a pet food is deemed safe if the amounts of these substances fall below a certain level.

Champion Petfoods says the metals in its food are found in “minuscule amounts” that “are a safe and common component of both human and animal diets.”

In the past, the company has argued that heavy metals shouldn’t even be described as “contaminants” at all because most of these metals are naturally occurring and may even have nutritional value at low enough levels.

The company points out that its average of 0.89 mg/kg arsenic in Acana and Orijen dog foods is far below the maximum tolerable limit of 12.50 mg/kg; its average of 0.09 mg/kg cadmium is far below the limit of 10.00 mg/kg; its average of 0.23 mg/kg lead is far below the limit of 10.00 mg/kg; and its average of 0.02 mg/kg mercury is far below the limit of 0.27 mg/kg.

The fact that the lawsuit relies upon data from the Clean Label Project — which awarded a 5-star rating to Alpo dog food, and which Dog Food Advisor, Whole Dog Journal and even Forbes have described as using “controversial,” “scare mongering” tactics and just plain “bad science” — demonstrates that there’s not a whole lot of evidence to back up its claims.

“We have no idea how much of these [metals] may actually be in the pet food products tested, because the Clean Label Project did not release any data at all,” writes Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry.

“Everything is reported in relative terms; i.e., how a pet food compares to others overall,” says Dr. David Dzanis, DVM, PhD, DACVN, referring to the Clean Label Project’s star-rating system. “Without numbers, it’s impossible to tell whether [any reported amounts] are materially different from each other, or if in fact any of those tested are anywhere close to what could potentially cause adverse effects.”

One commenter online pointed out, “It’s also not specified which forms of the metals were tested for. For example, organic arsenic is far less toxic than inorganic, and organic is what is typically found in seafood. Similarly, we don’t know if they were testing for methylmercury, inorganic mercury, etc. Very small traces of heavy metals will be found in many (if not most) food products.”

Another commenter summed things up this way on Facebook: “It is a shame that a company like Champion, which has had zero [U.S.] recalls and a stellar reputation since 1985, is being trashed without any due diligence given to actually researching these claims. A lawsuit is NOT a recall.… This lawsuit is shady and shouldn’t be taken as gospel.”

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