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.
What’s a Pet Parent to Do?
Salmonella has reared its ugly head again, this time in the Hartz Mountain Rawhide Chips. I am not a big advocate of feeding dogs rawhide or pig ears: They are indigestible, some occurrences of intestinal blockage have been reported, and some dogs (when left unsupervised) have choked on them. In addition, some of these products use animal parts from Asia or other third-world countries. These countries do not regulate pesticides, chemicals, or sanitation. Even if the hides are from the United States the chews could be processed in a foreign country. Arsenic is just one of the harmful substances used in rawhide processing, another is bleaching solutions (to make the hide white). Unfortunately, dog owners are blissfully unaware of this and they continue to give Fido these treats. It’s not that dog parents want to give their four-pawed pals something harmful, it’s just that most people believe these products wouldn’t be on the market if they were dangerous. And yet, time and time again the pet product industry breaks this trust.
You might recall that back in August another outbreak of Salmonella turned up in pet food. This time it was the Mars Petcare US company. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered a link between Salmonella Schwarzengrund, pet food, and an outbreak of Salmonella that affected sixty-six people and spanned 18 states. As it turns out, these people were affected by the exact same strain of Salmonella discovered in the Mars Petcare brand of Red Flannel Large Breed Adult Formula and the Krasdale Gravy kibble. The Pennsylvania Health Department also discovered traces of the strain at the Pennsylvania factory where the food was produced.
Mars was quick to act, recalling the food within a week of this discovery. Then once again in September another Mars Petcare US pet food recall was made. Again it was over “potential” salmonella contamination. This time a variety of their brands were affected and products in 31 states were pulled from the shelves.
No doubt about it, Salmonella is on the rise. In fact, the CDC reports that there are about 40,000 cases of Salmonella poisoning in the United States each year. That’s just the ones that are reported — milder cases are rarely reported — so it is difficult to state with certainty exactly how many cases actually occur each year. The problem is that Salmonella is highly transferable. That is, a person handling contaminated dog food can get it on their hands and accidentally ingest it. Another problem is that drug-resistant strains of Schwarzengrund Salmonella are increasing. And if a person contracts a drug-resistant variety they will require prolonged hospitalization. In some cases it results in death. As is usually the case with disease, the elderly and young are more likely to become victims. Furthermore, Schwarzengrund Salmonella can create multiple problems, even after a person recovers. One is Rieter’s Syndrome, an arthritis-like disease that causes painful joints, eye irritation, and painful urination.
On the whole, the frequency of Schwarzengrund Salmonella outbreaks is alarming. It reminds us to be cautious when handling all food products, including pet food. Certainly we need to take care in washing feeding bowls, utensils, and measuring cups. In addition, we want to caution small children about playing with pet food. Finally, as pet parents and consumers we want to educate ourselves about the food we are feeding our dogs and cats. Being enlightened will help us select the best quality of dog food or cat food for the four-pawed members of our family. It’s not just about our pets, Salmonella involves the human members of our family too. Let’s all wise up about pet food, take the time to investigate and research — after all, you wouldn’t put anything harmful into your baby’s mouth would you? By the same token, no loving pet parent would want to place harmful food into their furry baby’s bowl.
From toys to food to treats to medications: this author reveals the truth about the pet food industry!
Susan Thixton, author and pet rights advocate, has done it again! Read her article entitled The FDA ignores Pet Food Safety Deadline in the American Chronicle where she reveals the agency’s stalling tactics on the FDA Amendments Act that required the FDA to develop “Early Warning Surveillance Systems and Notification During Pet Food Recall.”
Better yet, visit her web site where you will find out the truth about pet food, which just happens to be the name of her web site!
This site truly represents the rights of pets to have safe foods, treats, and toys. Just as human consumers need consumer watch guard groups, so do pets. In fact, pets need them more since many people consider them to be expendable commodities or property. Neither one of these view points is true. For those who share their lives with their dear furry, scaly, or feathered friends, pets are family members. They need to be protected from harmful substances, insecticides, pharmaceuticals, and foods, just as we would protect other members of our family from harm
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On behalf of all the creatures thank you Susan!