Blue Ridge Beef is a company that sells raw pet food products in the US. According to their website (as of Dec 17, 2017), their products are processed in their own USDA inspected, human grade food facilities, and they sell “100% Pure Meat” with “no additives or preservatives.” Their main facilities are located in Statesville, North Carolina; Eatonton, Georgia; and Bunnell, Florida.
Concerns have been raised by raw feeders regarding the sourcing and quality of meat used in Blue Ridge Beef products. These concerns are based on the connection of Blue Ridge Beef with another company owned by the same person and listed under the same street address as BRB called Lea Way Farms, Inc. Here is an example of one of many forum posts on this subject.
“Dead, Dying, Diseased, & Disabled” Meat
Both Lea Way Farms, Inc. and Blue Ridge Beef are listed under the same owner, street address, and contact information.
The Blue Ridge Beef facility located in Bunnell, FL is also listed under a similar name, “Leaway South”.
Lea Way Farms, Inc. picks up dead, dying, diseased, or disabled (“4D”) cattle from area farms and provides a “means of sanitary disposal.” In this 2006 Iredell county record (on page 6), it is stated that “the existing plant processes useable materials into pet food products.” It goes on to say, “Steven Lea, Applicant, stated that Lea Way Farms has safely removed 28,000 pounds of ruminant material out of Iredell county and surrounding counties […] Mr. Lea stated that there are approximately 50,000 beef and dairy cattle in Iredell County and that the farmers experience mortality of cattle for various reasons including disease, predation, weather events, accidents, etc. Mr. Lea stated that since 1979 his company has collected these animals for recycling”.
Lea Way Farms, Inc has an active government contract under which the company is responsible for “ONGOING BOVINE SPONGIFORM ENCEPHALOPATHY SAMPLE COLLECTION OF 3D/4D SAMPLES.” Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy is a prion disease also known as Mad Cow Disease. 3D/4D refers to dead, dying, disabled, or diseased animals.
False USDA Establishment Number
Another major concern is the apparently false USDA Establishment number that Blue Ridge Beef has given out to customers. Raw feeders have posted on forums claiming that they were given this false information by the company.
I personally asked Blue Ridge Beef for their USDA Establishment Number via email, and I was given the number “2424”. I was unable to verify this number in the online USDA establishment database, so I filed a Freedom of Information request with the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) asking for access to verification, or lack thereof, of USDA establishment number records associated with Steven Lea, Blue Ridge Beef, and/or Lea Way Farms, or any other business located at the same street address.
The response to my request stated, “Please be advised that a search by knowledgeable staff in FSIS failed to locate any records responsive to your request.” They indicated that the establishment number “2424” was actually the number for an unrelated company located in Iowa.
USDA-FSIS only regulates facilities that process food that is safe for human consumption, thus only human grade meat will technically be considered “USDA inspected.” Blue Ridge Beef claims that their food is processed in their own USDA inspected human grade food facilities on their website (as of Dec 17, 2017); however, this is impossible without a valid USDA establishment number.
It is perfectly legal (and very common) to use 3D/4D meat in pet food products. Feeding 4D products may not be inherently harmful; many raw feeders do so knowingly due to the significant price difference between 3D/4D and human grade meat, and the idea that it can be perfectly safe as long as the company that sources the meat is reliable. Using 4D meat as pet food also prevents it from being wasted. However, it is up to the owner’s discretion to weigh the benefit vs risk and decide what they are comfortable feeding. If a company lies about the source or quality of their products, owners are not able to make that decision for themselves, and may be unknowingly feeding something they are not comfortable with.
USDA inspections are not legally required for pet food facilities, but they can be voluntarily inspected. The food will then be labelled with a seal stating “packed under continuous inspection of US Dept. of Agr.”, like the one in the photo to the left of this text. The number on the bottom, “17095”, corresponds to the facility’s establishment number.
This particular example on the left is for K9 Kraving dog food. This seal can be found on the packaging of their products, and their establishment number can be verified by locating it in the USDA establishment number database. They also have a link to their USDA certification documentation on their website. In comparison, none of this information is made available on Blue Ridge Beef’s website, Blue Ridge Beef products do not have this seal on their product packaging, and (as stated previously) the establishment number given to customers by Blue Ridge Beef representatives cannot be verified in the USDA establishment number database or located by USDA-FSIS employees in response to a FOI request.
Another concern that has been raised is that Lea Way Farms has been said to pick up not just cattle, but also dead or dying horses from area farms.
Although horse meat is very nutritious and would be safe to feed as pet food in theory, there are reasons to be concerned over the idea that horse meat may end up in pet food products. Some raw feeders are horse owners and/or would not be comfortable feeding horse meat to their dogs as a personal choice. However, they cannot make that choice for themselves if the company they buy from isn’t completely honest about the content of their products. Horses in the US are rarely safe for human consumption due to vaccinations, medications, or even euthanasia drugs that may be present in the animal’s body at the time of death. Euthanized horses have been used in pet food before: for example, in Feb 2017, some Evanger’s canned dog food products were tested and found to contain horse meat and pentobarbital (euthanasia drug).
Blue Ridge Beef’s response to customer concerns
Raw feeders have reported receiving hostile responses after questioning Blue Ridge Beef. According to the owner of the company, they are no longer addressing concerns regarding these issues. Here is a statement released by the owner.
Are Blue Ridge Beef products safe?
The purpose of this article is to summarize the concerns surrounding Blue Ridge Beef’s pet food products. It is not meant to convince anyone not to purchase these products. Although the correlations and connections detailed in this article seem to strongly suggest that this company is not being completely truthful with their customers, there are also reviews from plenty of loyal customers that choose to feed these products. I have no vested interest in any type of competitor, nor do I stand to gain anything by publishing this information. All of the information in this article is publicly accessible. My intention in writing this article, just like any of my other articles, is simply to inform raw feeders. It is ultimately up to you to decide whether or not you are comfortable feeding this product, and the information provided in this article simply allows you to make a fully informed decision.
Update #2: In July 2020, the FDA issued a warning letter to Lea-Way Farms, Inc. (dba Blue Ridge Beef) that states: “Your firm utilizes tissues from animals that have died otherwise than by slaughter in the manufacturing of pet food without first determining whether the animals suffered any type of illness, injury, and/or whether any medications may have been administered to the animals prior to your pick up from the supplier and subsequent use in manufacturing,” among other violations.