Pet Food Company Wins Label Fight in Ohio

After the Ohio Department of Agriculture refused to give Honest Kitchen a license due to labeling concerns, a judge reversed the decision.

Posted: November 29, 2007 5 a.m. EDT

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After a nearly year-long dispute with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, San Diego-based Honest Kitchen won the right to sell its pet food in the state. When Ohio denied the manufacturer’s request for a license in January 2007, the company appealed and was granted an internal hearing that upheld the department’s initial finding, according to Lucy Postins, founder of Honest Kitchen.

Agriculture authorities “felt as though the label was misleading, that it was false” when following Ohio’s revised code on labeling, according to Cindy Brown, a representative for the Department of Agriculture’s communications department. “The thing that we didn’t agree with was their quote that this product is made with ‘100-percent human-food-grade ingredients, it contains no animal feed grade ingredients whatsoever, and is made in a USDA-inspected facility but is intended for your dog to eat, not you.’”
 
Those statements showed “inherent inconsistencies” that the department believed could confuse consumers as to whether or not the food was intended for human or animal consumption, Brown said.

Postins says a 2004 letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approving the company’s use of “human-grade” in its labeling has proved useful in the past and that “every other state has allowed our labeling.” She decided to take the issue to court.

On Nov. 5, a judge in the Franklin County Ohio Civil Division ruled in favor of Honest Kitchen, saying that the Agriculture Department’s decision “constitutes an impermissible restraint on [Honest Kitchen’s] right of commercial free speech and it is therefore reversed.”

In accordance with the decision, the Department issued Honest Kitchen a permit to sell on Nov. 20, according to Brown.

Although at press time Honest Kitchen had not yet received the permit in the mail (the company recently moved, and its mail is being forwarded), Postins says she expects her Ohio distributor Wholesome Pet to begin shipping orders to retailers within two weeks of receiving the official OK. Based on sales in states of similar size, she expects Ohio to generate revenues between $30,000 and $50,000.

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