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.
FDA Cautions Public About Chicken Jerky Products for Dogs
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine issued this caution statement yesterday:
December 19, 2008
FDA Continues To Receive Complaints about Chicken Jerky Products for Dogs and Cautions Consumers
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to caution consumers of a potential association between the development of illness in dogs and the consumption of chicken jerky products also described as chicken tenders, strips or treats. FDA continues to receive complaints of dogs experiencing illness that their owners or veterinarians associate with consumption of chicken jerky products. The chicken jerky products are imported to the U.S. from China. FDA issued a cautionary warning to consumers in September 2007.
Australian news organizations report the University of Sydney is also investigating an association between illness in dogs and the consumption of chicken jerky in Australia. At least one firm in Australia has recalled their chicken jerky product and the recall notification stated the chicken jerky product was manufactured in China.
FDA believes the continued trend of consumer complaints coupled with the information obtained from Australia warrants an additional reminder and animal health notification.
Chicken jerky products should not be substituted for a balanced diet and are intended to be
used occasionally and in small quantities. Owners of small dogs must be especially careful to limit the amount of these products.
FDA, in addition to several veterinary diagnostic laboratories in the U.S, is working to determine why these products are associated with illness in dogs. To date, scientists have not been able to determine a definitive cause for the reported illnesses. FDA has conducted extensive chemical and microbial testing but has not identified any contaminant.
FDA is advising consumers who choose to feed their dogs chicken jerky products to watch their dogs closely for any or all of the following signs which may occur within hours to days of feeding the product: decreased appetite, although some may continue to consume the treats to the exclusion of other foods; decreased activity; vomiting; diarrhea, sometimes with blood; and increased water consumption and/or increased urination. If the dog shows any of these signs, stop feeding the chicken jerky product. Owners should consult their veterinarian if signs are severe or persist for more than 24 hours. Blood tests may indicate kidney failure (increased urea nitrogen and creatinine). Urine tests may indicate Fanconi syndrome (increased glucose). Although most dogs appear to recover, some reports to the FDA have involved dogs that have died.
The FDA continues to actively investigate the problem. Many of the illnesses reported may be the result of causes other than eating chicken jerky. Veterinarians and consumers alike should report cases of animal illness associated with pet foods to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator http://www.fda.gov/opacom/backgrounders/complain.html in their state.
Whatever Happened to the Food and Drug Administration’s Animal Feed Safety System?
On the heels of the 2007 pet food scandal the shamed-faced FDA scrabbled to regain its composure by attempting to develop animal feed safeguards. As a result, in November of 2007 the FDA released its Food Protection Plan, aptly named the Animal Feed Safety System, or AFFSS. Unfortunately, rather than take responsibility the FDA offers us a spoonful of pabulum by referring to America’s previous safety record for animal feed. Conversely the FDA’s only mention of what really prompted their action is, “the public became alarmed last year when imported feed ingredients, contaminated with melamine and related compounds, were used in pet food, which resulted in sick dogs and cats.”
That is of course an understatement. Dogs and cats did not just become ill, they died! And America’s track record for animal feed safety may be “good” compared to third-world countries but this is America and Americans expect and demand higher safety standards. It could be said that it took the death of thousands of innocent American pets to get the FDA to take action on imported and domestic pet food products.
Supposedly the FDA Food Protection Plan’s intent is to identify potential food hazards before damage occurs. Here is the FDA’s own definition of the Animal Feed Safety System’s directive:
A risk-based, preventive animal feed safety program [that] will require producers and distributors of animal feeds to take into consideration hazards, whose presence in or introduction into their feeds pose an unacceptable risk to animal or human health and to develop a plan to prevent or eliminate, or reduce to an acceptable level, those hazards.
However, FDA bureaucracy enjoys adding more acts, programs, and titles, just to keep things complicated. So, not only is there an AFSS but the FDA Amendments Act of 2007 was passed to put the pressure on the FDA itself to “improve the safety of pet food and ingredients¹.” Title 10 of this act requires the FDA to establish, “by regulation, ingredient standards and definitions, processing standards, and labeling standards—including nutritional and ingredient information—for pet food. It also requires the FDA to establish an Early Warning Surveillance and Notification System to identify adulteration of the pet food supply and illness outbreaks and to notify veterinarians and other stakeholders of pet food recalls.²”
Confused by all the abbreviations, programs, titles, and acts? You are not alone! It’s no wonder that it takes a whole team of people to keep up with it all. This team is the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), also part of the FDA. In April 2008 the CVM filed its 3rd version of the AFSS Framework Document. The idea was to identify and plug in any gaps found in the original framework document. The bottom line is, what have Americans received thus far? Revisions and more revisions — all with the idea of improving the initial AFSS food protection plan.
Currently, there are still no enforceable regulations to protect pets from food contamination. Yet, it is well over a year since the deaths of thousands of America’s pets that spurred the FDA to set up the AFSS in the first place. Never mind that the tainted pet food in early 2007 resulted in a 24 million dollar lawsuit. Or that there is still no early warning notification system in place. So when will regulations for ingredients, processing, and standardization of feed labels be introduced? And, when will an early warning notification system be in place? Your guess is as good as the FDA’s!
¹2008 - Volume XXIII, No. III, FDA Newsletter
²2008 - Volume XXIII, No. III, FDA Newsletter