A California dog owner filed a putative statewide class action on Wednesday in federal court, accusing Tyson Foods of misleading consumers and violating state laws by intentionally mislabeling pet foods and treats made with ingredients sourced in foreign countries as “Made in the USA” and charging premium prices.According to the complaint, plaintiff Susan Fitzpatrick repeatedly purchased Tyson Foods Inc.’s Nudges brand grain-free dog treats under the wrongful assumption that they were made in the United States from American ingredients because of an American flag and a “Made in USA” label displayed on the packaging. In fact, the dog treats contain tapioca starch made from cassava root, which requires tropical conditions and cannot be commercially grown in the U.S, the suit says.
Fitzpatrick further alleges that the Nudges brand’s website makes similar claims as do the websites of retailers who carry the product. She says the majority of pet owners who purchase the treats do not understand what they’re buying.
“Consumers are particularly vulnerable to these deceptive and fraudulent practices. Most consumers possess very limited knowledge of the likelihood that pet food products claiming to be made in the United States are in fact made or sourced in foreign countries,” the complaint said.
Fitzpatrick argues that many pet owners are willing to pay more for products they believe are made in the U.S. because they perceive them to be of a higher quality than those produced abroad. She says “Made in the USA” labels also influence purchasing decisions when consumers think they are supporting American jobs and businesses.
Fitzpatrick asked the court to order Tyson Foods to stop its allegedly deceptive labeling practices, claiming the company’s behavior violates the California Unfair Competition Law and the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act.
“California and federal laws are designed to protect consumers from this type of false representation and predatory conduct. Defendant’s scheme to defraud consumers is ongoing and will victimize consumers each and every day until altered by judicial intervention,” the complaint said.
The suit, which was filed in California federal court, seeks to represent all residents of California who purchased Nudges brand dog treats or allegedly mislabeled cat food from Tyson Foods in the last four years. The size of the class is currently unknown, but Fitzpatrick believes there are potentially hundreds of thousands of members.
Fitzpatrick’s attorney John Norris of Davis and Norris LLP declined comment Thursday. Tyson Foods Inc. did not respond to requests for comment.
Fitzpatrick is represented by Benjamin P. Tryk of Tryk Law PC and John E. Norris of Davis & Norris LLP.
Counsel information for Tyson Foods Inc. was not available Thursday.
The case is Fitzpatrick v. Tyson Foods Inc, case number 2:15-cv-02285, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.
–Editing by Christine Chun.