Life is never dull is it? My life is no exception. In this crazy world of pet food, here’s some correspondence I had recently with a Consumer Affairs representative and their lawyer…
On Monday, February 25, 2013 at 10:06 am I received the following message through the contact form on TruthaboutPetFood.com…
From: Jim Hood
Susan, I have not heard back from you regarding the libelous comments you made about ConsumerAffairs.com in the Hamlethub. You need to take care of this now.
Since I’m not affiliated with Hamlet Hub, I had not a clue what I was supposed to ‘take care of’. So I responded to Mr. Hood with…
I’ve not received an email from you – so I’m unaware of what this is about. Please explain.
And Mr. Hood promptly replied…
If you look at your story on HamletHub.com — http://hamlethub.com/newtown-life/cat/adopt-a-pet/25566-are-the-complaints-about-beneful-pet-food-valid?fb_comment_id=fbc_314273312024363_1610857_332195666898794#f1a4dd1698c546a — you will see that I posted a response via Facebook to your libelous and reckless comments. I also sent my response via email to the address listed on the HamletHub site and got no response.
You need to get on this now.
James R. Hood
A Consumers Unified, LLC property
297 Kingsbury Grade, Suite 1025, Mailbox 4470
Lake Tahoe, NV 89449-4470
f 702 664-1312
I’m not sure why Mr. Hood didn’t contact Hamlet Hub, since this is the website he appeared to have a beef with. But, this is what I responded to him…
I’m not sure what you think I should do? What does “get on this now” imply? If you notice in the story I said that “It could be every single complaint on the Consumer Affairs website are legitimate reports of pet death or illness linked to Beneful, but only a few of these pet food adverse events were reported to FDA.” And then I said “It could be some of the complaints posted on the Consumer Affairs website are fictitious.” Please explain what you are asking me to do. And – this is the first message I have received from you. I don’t follow the comments on other sites that publish my stories.
But Mr. Hood did not see that I posted both sides and he didn’t seem to understand the point is to urge pet food consumers to report pet food adverse events to authorities…he emailed back again…
Susan, in your paragraph 2, you accuse us — based on no evidence — of fraud. Unless you immediately correct this and issue a retraction, we will turn this over to our lawyers.
It is outrageous to make a defamatory comment of that gravity without making even the slightest attempt to verify it.
And I replied again…
I’m sorry Jim – but I didn’t accuse Consumer Affairs of anything. I know many pet owners turn to your site to post complaints – and the whole point of my story was to point out that FDA had not received but a small handful of complaints and to urge pet owners to always report to FDA. I never stated Consumer Affairs did anything wrong – I stated it “could” be all information on your site is true or it “could” be it wasn’t. Could. And I stated it both ways. I honestly do not understand your anger and threats to me. I’ll be certain to quote you word for word when I share this story with my readers.
And Mr. Hood of Consumer Affairs responded again…
“Could” is a strong word. It is basic journalism to check your facts before speculating in print. You basically accuse us of fraud. If you don’t understand that, you need to go back to journalism school.
Let me get this straight — are you refusing to retract your earlier story accusing us of dummying up complaints?
And me again…
Again, I did not accuse Consumer Affairs of anything. You are reading far too much into the word “could”. No, I did not accuse – basically or implied – Consumer Affairs of fraud. Again, my goal was to educate pet food consumers to report to FDA and their State Department of Agriculture any adverse pet food events.
And then I get the following email from attorney Cameron Stracher…
Ms. Thixton: I represent ConsumerAffairs.com, and I write in response to your January 18, 2013 post entitled “Are the Complaints About Beneful Pet Food Valid,” which is located at:
As you know, ConsumerAffairs objects to your characterization of its reporting and disputes some of the conclusions you draw. We respectfully request that you provide ConsumerAffairs an opportunity to respond meaningfully to your post, and provide a prominent link within the post to the response so that your readers may easily view it.
Very truly yours,
4 New York Plaza, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10004
4 North Pasture Road, Westport, CT 06880
To which I responded…
First of all, I did not characterize ConsumerAffairs in any way. Next, the Hamlet Hub website is not my website. I’m not the person to ask if you can post a response. That website share my posts to their pet food consumer readers – but I am in no way affiliated with that website. You will need to contact the folks at Hamlet Hub to ask them. Now, if you’d like to provide a response to me – yes I will post it on my website. Along with the threats that I received from your representative James Hood. Perhaps you’ll want to respond to his threats to me too. I will be posting James Hoods’ email threats to me within the next day or two – so I’ll need your response soon.
So as promised here is equal time provided to Consumer Affairs sent to me from attorney Cameron Stracher for Mr. Hood…
It is puzzling to see your recent blog posting which implies that ConsumerAffairs publishes fictitious reviews about Beneful pet food and, by extension, other products. To the best of my knowledge, you did not contact us or make any attempt to ascertain whether there was the slightest shred of truth in your post. This is hardly good journalistic practice and certainly does not serve the interests of pet owners, which I gather is the purpose of your endeavors.
It is no excuse to claim, as you have, that you are merely raising questions about “possibilities.” You clearly do just the opposite when you note that the FDA has averaged 2-4 complaints about Beneful over the past year while ConsumerAffairs had received “hundreds,” and you state that “some” people could construe ConsumerAffairs to be inventing complaints in order to “pressure” companies to sign up for its fee-based service.
For the record, it is not true that ConsumerAffairs employs an army of liars to make up reviews about consumer products. Nor is it true that we knowingly publish fictitious reviews. All submissions are tested against a set of guidelines intended to weed out counterfeit reviews. We cannot, of course, ensure that every consumer is perfectly accurate in recounting her or his experience with a product or service.
It is true that we have a program which offers companies the opportunity to engage with disgruntled consumers but I fail to see the nefarious motives that you assign to this function. There are basic, intermediate and advanced levels available, each with different price points. The purpose of this program is to make our site more valuable to consumers by helping them to resolve their complaint and to help ensure that other consumers do not encounter the same problems.
ConsumerAffairs was founded in 1998 to do exactly what it has done ever since – advance the cause of consumer empowerment and education.
Through our review process, we give consumers a means to share their experience with a wide range of products and services in the hope that over time this helps consumers make smart choices and motivates companies to do a better job of meeting their customers’ expectations.
We also maintain a stable of highly experienced journalists who cover topics of particular interest to consumers, helping to draw attention to current issues that need the attention of consumers, brands, regulators, lawmakers and the community at large.
As for the question of why our site has published, as of this writing, 425 complaints about Beneful pet food compared to a mere handful submitted to the Food and Drug Administration, I believe the answer is fairly obvious. Our site is widely read by millions of consumers and is a well-known forum where consumer issues are brought to light. It is very easy to submit a review to us, simply by clicking the “Write a Review” button that appears on every page of our site. Finding the complaint form on the FDA site is much more difficult.
Also, it is very easy to find reviews about a specific product on our site. A simple Google search is all that is usually required to go directly to the relevant page, where a consumer can read as many or as few as she wants. Complaints submitted to the FDA, on the other hand, go into what may as well be a black hole. They are not published and can be retrieved only through a Freedom of Information Act request, a process that is very time-consuming and often unsuccessful.
That being said, if you take the trouble to read the Jan. 8, 2013, news story we wrote about Beneful pet owners’ problems, you will find a section headed “Report problems.” In that section, we recommend that our readers not only contact the FDA, using the link in our article, but also that they retain the packaging and, if possible, a sample of the food that they believe made their animal sick, in hopes of helping the FDA to track down the source of the problem.
You might also notice in our Jan. 8 article this sentence: “Purina did not respond to a request for its response to the consumers’ reports.” Unlike your post, we at least attempted to give Purina the chance to respond to the issues raised in our story. It has been more than 50 years since I was in journalism school but I seem to recall that this is one of the cardinal rules of reporting. It might be one you should adopt.
And since this is my website – not Mr. Hoods – I get the final word…
I commend Consumer Affairs for providing pet food consumers a place to post illness and or death reports of a pet believed to be linked to a pet food or treat. Since your website is such a well read location for pet food consumers, I ask you to take a more active role representing those readers. I ask Consumer Affairs to promote the Report It! Campaign initiated by consumer advocacy organization Association for Truth in Pet Food. I encourage you to become active with regulatory authorities such as attending/participating in AAFCO meetings, opening a dialogue with state and federal authorities to improve the safety of pet food. I encourage Consumer Affairs to promote transparency in the pet food industry such as the Pledge to Quality and Origin.
Changes in the pet food industry are greatly needed. Change begins with awareness of problems, but it doesn’t stop there. Awareness is the beginning – its what comes after that needs attention. You are in a position to draw much attention to more than reports of sick pets, you are in a position to use the Consumer Affairs name to improve the safety of pet food.
The next AAFCO meeting is in August in St. Petersburg, FL. I’ll be there advocating for my readers…will you?
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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