Reprinted from http://healthypets.mercola.com/
By Dr. Becker
I frequently discuss “prescription” pet diets here at Mercola Healthy Pets in terms of the cheap, biologically inappropriate ingredients they contain, much like most other processed pet foods on the market.
I typically don’t talk as much about the high cost of these diets or the fact that there’s nothing in the majority of them that requires a prescription, because my focus is usually on the low-quality ingredients instead.
But if you’ve ever purchased one of these “special” dry or canned diets for a pet, you know how expensive they are, and you might be interested to learn that a group of pet parents recently filed a class action lawsuit against several pet industry companies, alleging they engaged in price fixing of prescription dog and cat food in the U.S. in violation of anti-trust and consumer protection laws.
Defendants Include 6 of the Biggest Pet Industry Players
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern California and lists the defendants as Mars Petcare, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Nestlé Purina Petcare, Banfield Pet Hospital, Blue Pearl Pet Hospital and PetSmart. Read the full complaint.
The plaintiffs, pet owners who purchased prescription diets from one or more of the companies, assert they conspired with each other to falsely promote “prescription” pet food. The specific pet diets mentioned in the complaint include:
- Hill’s Prescription Diet
- Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets
- Royal Canin Veterinary Diet
- Iams Veterinary Formula
The complaint points out there’s no reason for the foods to require a prescription, since they contain no drug or other ingredient not commonly found in non-prescription pet diets. The lawsuit further alleges:
“Retail consumers, including Plaintiffs, have overpaid and made purchases they otherwise would not have made on account of Defendants’ abuse and manipulation of the ‘prescription’ requirement.”
Lawsuit Accuses Big Pet Food of Abusing Their Dominant Position in the Marketplace
Mars PetCare is the largest supplier of pet food in the world. Nestlé Purina Petcare is in second place, and Hill’s Pet Nutrition is No. 4.
PetSmart is the largest pet supply chain in the U.S., Banfield is the largest veterinary clinic chain and Blue Pearl is the largest veterinary specialty and emergency care chain.
The lawsuit argues that these companies abuse their position as the biggest players in the industry to promote “prescription” diets for dogs and cats.
Veterinarians actually hand pet owners written prescriptions for a certain kind of pet food, and the pet owners go to PetSmart or another location to purchase the prescribed food. These pet guardians, according to the complaint, are typical of people who consistently follow the advice and direction of medical professionals.
Why Is a Pet Product Containing No Drugs or Other Controlled Substances Being Sold by Prescription Only?
However, the “prescription” dog and cat diets manufactured by Mars, Purina and Hill’s are not evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because they don’t contain drugs or other controlled substances. According to Tim Wall, writing for PetfoodIndustry.com:
“The case document states that the American public reasonably expects a prescription requirement implies that a substance is medically necessary, contains a drug, medicine or controlled ingredient, has been FDA evaluated and legally requires a prescription. The plaintiffs allege that the prescription pet foods do not meet these criteria.”1
The lawsuit asserts that the prescription requirement allows the defendants to “… market and sell Prescription Pet Food at well-above market prices that would not otherwise prevail in the absence of the Prescription Authorization.”
There are legitimate reasons why “prescription” diets for specific medical conditions should not be fed to healthy animals.
For instance, feeding a diet intentionally lower in protein and phosphorus may be warranted for end-stage kidney disease patients, but it would be a poor choice for healthy or growing animals.
The deception about “prescription” ingredients in the foods, for the most part, is legitimate. There is one exception. One human-grade, fresh pet food company producing medical diets that actually do contain therapeutic ingredients, such as Chitosan to bind phosphorus in their kidney formula.
‘Defendants Are Engaged in an Anticompetitive Conspiracy’
The complaint further asserts that the positioning of the pet food as “prescription” is effective in part because all the defendants work together to promote it. The veterinary clinic defendants write the “prescriptions” for the food, which is made by the pet food company defendants, and sold by defendant PetSmart.
Many people are unaware that Mars owns 79 percent of Banfield. Guess who owns the remaining 21 percent? PetSmart (which is why many Banfield clinics are located inside PetSmart stores). Mars also owns 100 percent of Blue Pearl. According to the complaint:
“Defendants are engaged in an anticompetitive conspiracy to market and sell pet food as prescription pet food to consumers at above-market prices that would not otherwise prevail in the absence of their collusive prescription-authorization requirement.”
The lawsuit alleges that selling the pet food as “prescription” is unfair and deceptive under California consumer protection laws. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for activity on this class action lawsuit and update you when there’s progress.
Meanwhile, if your own veterinarian is in the habit of recommending “prescription” pet food for your dog or cat, I encourage you to ask for balanced, homemade recipes instead. Otherwise, you’ll be spending a lot of money for poor-quality pet food that will not improve your furry family member’s health in the long run.