Chinese ingredients have been back in the news again, as pet food products are once again “suspected” of causing health problems. No surprise. As Pets Adviser has now covered in detail, tainted ingredients are a disaster just waiting to happen (again).
On November 18, 2011, the FDA announced that an outbreak of sick and dying dogs may be caused by chicken jerky pet treats that are being imported from China. The treats are also sold as chicken tenders, chicken strips or just plain chicken-flavored pet treats.
Here’s what the FDA said in a November news release:
“In the last 12 months, FDA has seen an increase in the number of complaints it received of dog illnesses associated with consumption of chicken jerky products imported from China.”
The rather vague statement concluded by saying that the FDA has launched an investigation, yet it proposed no recall of the treats. So believe it or not, these treats are still on store shelves. The affected brands have been identified in the press as Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch jerky tenders/treats, both made by Nestle Purina PetCare Company; and Milo’s Kitchen Home-style Dog Treats, made by the Del Monte Corporation.
Here’s the deal: Complaints started rolling in to the FDA in 2007 about these treats, around the same time as the massive, deadly recall of pet foods containing melamine from China. Then, in 2009 and 2010, there were fewer complaints about the chicken jerky treats. Now again, in 2011 and especially in 2012, as dogs are being sickened yet again by the questionable treats, the FDA has finally begun to take action. It’s almost as if the FDA hasn’t wanted to ruffle any feathers.
Contrast this with what Pets Adviser has been saying for some time now — that the situation is critical.
As a refresher, let’s talk about what happened in the past. In 2007 thousands of dogs and cats were killed because of tainted ingredients sourced from China — notably the additive melamine, otherwise known as a fire retardant and a plastic used in cheap lawn chairs. That’s right, lawn chair plastic. In all, 60 million packages of pet foods were recalled during what was by all measures a pet-food catastrophe.
Now, nearly five years after that fiasco, many pet owners now assume that new, stronger regulations are in place to protect them. Not true.
While it’s true that melamine — “suspected” of being the 2007 culprit — is now virtually gone from most pet foods, it’s also unfortunately true that manufacturers have been creating dangerous new ways to cut corners and save money in China by introducing ingredients such as a “hydrolyzed leather protein,” made from scraps of leather.
Here’s just a brief list of recent blocked imports from China — stuff that the FDA actually did somehow manage to catch before it reached us:
- Dog food made by the Wenzhou Huahui Leather Co. — blocked because of melamine contamination/poison (February 2012)
- Chewing leather strips (dog toys) — apparently contained Salmonella (October 2011)
- “Gourmet” pet treats — melamine contamination (September 2011)
- Pet treats — melamine (January 2010)
- Animal food additive — melamine (November 2010)
- Pet fish food — melamine (August 2010)
- Rawhide dog chews — melamine (July 2010)
The FDA often uses words like “filthy,” “putrid” and “poisonous” in its descriptions of blocked imports from China.
Chew on These Numbers
Here are some cold hard facts.
- Did you know that over the past decade, Chinese food imports into America have tripled?
- Were you aware that 70 percent of dog and cat food products in the United States were imported from China?
- Finally… the scary part: Did you know that a mere 1 to 2 percent (at most!) of foodstuff imported to the United States from China is ever inspected at our borders? The rest sails through, no questions asked. There’s only so many inspectors available to check out the mountain of imports.
In fact, Chinese pet food ingredients are so widespread that they are in virtually every pet food on the market in the United States, regardless of whether your pet food bag says “Made in China” (which it most certainly does not). Pets Adviser has done an investigation [PDF] that showed that even some top-shelf brands contain ingredients sourced from China.
Jerky Investigation Steps Up
OK, let’s return to the chicken jerky treats that are in the news right now. According to a document from the FDA, the agency has reportedly finally started testing in 2012 for heavy metals in the treats — and the results are not in yet. Heavy metals could include arsenic, lead, mercury, even uranium, all of which could cause the symptoms (acute renal failure) shown in the affected dogs. Surprisingly, the FDA is reportedly also running a DNA analysis on the treats. The agency hasn’t commented on these tests, but DNA analysis could mean the FDA has doubts that there’s really chicken in the treats after all. Now that is scary!
The current round of testing is a positive sign after months of what appeared to be a collective shrug of the shoulders from agency higher-ups. But it’s not enough. Why is there no recall yet? Why are some stores STILL carrying these deadly treats?
“At the slightest doubt, these products should have been recalled, especially knowing there was a link or at the very least a caution/warning label put on the packaging warning the consumers,” says Robin Pierre, a co-founder of the group Animal Parents Against Pet Treats Made in China, which has organized a protest on April 1. Robin blames Waggin’ Train treats for the death of her 2-year-old pug.
Some legislators have become outspoken about the issue in Congress, another step in a positive direction.
How You Can Take Action
Here’s what you can do:
- You can join Animal Parents Against Pet Treats Made in China on Facebook.
- Ask your local pet store why it is still stocking these dangerous products!
- Please spread the word. Many pet owners still don’t realize what’s going on. Help us educate everyone by sharing this article. Like it on Facebook, tweet it to your followers, share it with your Google circles, email it to your friends. Every small action you can take right now can help.
- FDA: Caution on chicken jerky products
- Food & Water Watch: A decade of dangerous food imports from China
- Ask a Vet Question: Chicken jerky recall 2011
- Food Safety News: More on chicken jerky pet treat alert
- Pet Pardons News: Leaked FDA document shows lack of proper pet treat testing
- Food Safety News Dogs continue to fall ill