A Recent Slew of Pet Food Recalls
Pet food recalls are reaching another all-time high.
Many pet parents are now wondering how to cope with the possibility that they might be feeding Fido or Boots contaminated food. Even premium pet food companies like the Amarillo, Texas based Merrick Pet Care are experiencing problems from that pesky bacteria known as Salmonella. In a July 6, 2010 notification from the FDA’s Vet Tech Institute division an alert was emailed out about Merrick Pet Care’s recall of Beef Filet Squares treats for dogs in the 10 oz. bag (item #60016, Lot # 10084TL7) with a Best By March 21, 2012 expiration date. The recall involves 86 cases of possibly contaminated dog treats. In another instance, the United Pet Group of Cincinnati, Ohio voluntarily expanded its recall of nutritional supplements for dogs and cats due to the same possible Salmonella health risk. If that weren’t enough, Feline’s Pride of Buffalo, New York has issued a voluntary recall of its Natural Chicken Formula Raw Food for cats and kittens.
What exactly is the problem with the pet food industry? And why has Salmonella become so prevalent in pet food?
For the answer let’s look at the source of Salmonella. This hardy (dare I say, indestructible?) bacteria lives in the intestines of animals. Most animal feed contains parts of slaughtered animals and these parts include intestines. As a matter of fact, the AAFCO does not even require that an animal is slaughtered in the traditional way to become part of your pet’s food. The process known as rendering allows for any animal parts, regardless of the type of animal, to enter your pet’s food chain. In the AAFCO’s Q & A regarding pet food regulations the reply to question 4 is, “Animal by-products which may include materials from animals which died by means other than slaughter are explicitly defined as adulterated unless* the materials are rendered in compliance with animal health and protein product regulations to destroy any potential microorganisms which may be in the products. The processes used are deemed to be adequate to control risk of disease.”
What’s wrong with by-products?
The term “animal by-products” sounds benign doesn’t it? However, the definition of by-products is rendered meat. This consists of animal carcasses and intestines, it also contains other ingredients such as fat derived from other more non-traditional animal parts — yes, gulp! even euthanized animals from laboratories — that are then cooked together at a high temperature. This rendering process is the first step to producing the by-product meal found in your pet’s food. This process also creates the fat added to your pet’s food. Keep in mind that both the by-product meal and the rendered fat include multiple body parts and intestines. Despite the AAFCO’s claim that rendering is an adequate method to control the risk of disease heat will not kill all strains of Salmonella bacteria.
What role does the Association of American Feed Control Officials play in pet food manufacturing?
Another interesting fact is the AAFCO’s checklist entitled Best Management Guidance Document for Manufacturing, Packaging and Distributing Animal Feeds and Feed Ingredients (download a copy of this by clicking on this link AAFCO Checklist for Best Mangement Practices). In paragraph 3 number (a) and (b), the AAFCO checklist includes appropriate clean-out procedures such as sequencing, flushing, or physically cleaning to prevent cross-contamination that may endanger animal or human health. In other words, the AAFCO recommends that before a new batch of pet food is processed all equipment be shut down and thoroughly cleaned out and disinfected before a new batch is initiated. This is a costly and time consuming procedure for manufacturers. There are no enforcing agents on the premises, so is it possible that some manufacturers are skipping this important step?
Does Salmonella affect the United States Economically?
Salmonella is not going away anytime soon, its rise will escalate as demand for manufactured and processed food grows. This bacteria’s impact on industrial countries is reaching an astronomical high. According to the World Health Organization the economic cost of food-born Salmonella in the United States hit $3 billion annually in 2001. Additionally, in Denmark the annual estimated cost of Salmonella was $15.5 million in 2001. Denmark took action and instituted a Salmonella control program that costs about $14.1 million annually but its government estimates that this saves the Danes approximately $25.5 million annually in public expenditure. Yet, there is no similar program in the United States and I suspect this is because it would be too costly to enforce.
The bottom line is that consumers need to be aware of the risks when purchasing commercially prepared pet food.
High dollar brand names will not necessarily protect your pet. But there are methods that you can take to dilute the risk. If you are feeding your pet kibble, purchase a high quality brand name, one that does not include meat by-product meal (which is a generic term for saying the meat source is unknown). Instead be certain that the first ingredient on the ingredient list is a named animal protein and not a by-product. Avoid kibble that contains grains (even rice). Next, purchase at least three bags of high-quality kibble from different manufacturers and mix these together. If you feed your pet canned food along with kibble be certain to follow the same process, alternating between brands. By doing this you are ensuring that if a product is contaminated your pet will not receive a high dosage of contamination.
Is there a method to guarantee a pet receives uncontaminated food?
There is only one certain method to guarantee that your pet eats healthy, untainted food and that is by making it yourself. My grandmother and mother were right, they never purchased commercial pet food products. All our dogs ate human-grade meat and veggies and grandmother made these nightly for Puk, one of our family’s many Springer Spaniels. My mother followed in those footsteps and Duke, our poodle, received a homemade meal every night, right along with us. I am the third generation and after owning several herding dogs who were all fed commercial pet food I have finally seen the light. My three multi-mix dogs receive a homemade meal every day, consisting of human-grade raw meats and organic vegetables. They are thriving, beautiful and happy.
* Emphasis by author and not part of the original text
About the author:
Gyvel Young is a journalist with several published books and articles to her credit. Her passion is canine nutrition and animal behavior.