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FDA Pitches Pet Food Safety Rules in Face of Years-long Pet Epidemic Caused by Toxic Treats

Oct 25, 2013

Following the thousands of illnesses and hundreds of deaths occurring among U.S. pets, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing rules to make the food we feed our pets safer.

The agency has not yet identified a common contamination source of the tainted pet jerky treats believed to have caused an ongoing epidemic that has sickened more than 3,600 pets – killing nearly 600 – since 2007. The FDA did reveal that most of the tainted treats have ingredients sourced from China, and that dozens of brands and various types of treats (chicken and dried fruit, for example) are involved.

One result of this ongoing epidemic is that law firms are doing brisk business – filing lawsuits, including class actions, for Plaintiffs who lost pets to tainted treats or food or who themselves were sickened or had loved ones sickened (humans can get sick from handling contaminated pet food items).

The first complaints started arriving at the FDA’s offices in January 2007, said agency spokeswoman Shelly Burgess, who noted that there has been a slight drop off in these reports since January 2013, after some products were pulled from the market once testing confirmed they contained unapproved antibiotics.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the FDA’s proposed rules mandate that, to prevent food contamination in the U.S., pet-food sellers and sellers of animal feed—including importers—must follow specific sanitation practices and create detailed food safety plans.

Implementation of these rules would help minimize human illness as well, as pet food contamination can transfer to humans handling contaminated pet and animal food, noted the AP.

Although it is often difficult to determine in monetary terms the costs of the devastation and loss experienced over the loss of a beloved pet, lawsuits have been and remain mounting. Plaintiffs are seeking the recovery of pet-related costs, such as burial and cremation expenses; veterinary bills, which in some cases reach into the thousands of dollars; costs related to the loss of a purebred pet; and the cost of the tainted products.

“Most of the jerky treats implicated have been made in China,” the FDA stated on its website. “Investigators have tested more than 1,200 samples but haven’t uncovered what could be causing the illnesses,” the agency added, according to ABC News. The website also noted: “Pet owners should be aware that manufacturers do not need to list the country of origin for each ingredient used in their products, so packages that do not state on the label that they are made in another country may still contain ingredients sourced from China or other countries that export to the U.S.”

The treats are described as jerky tenders or strips and are made with chicken, duck, sweet potato, and dried fruit, as well as combinations of these ingredients. Although dozens of brands have been implicated in the widespread debacle, since a common contamination source has not been found, a recall has never been issued, according to ABC News.

Based on an ABC News analysis of the most recent three months, a total of 1,200 complaints were received by the agency from July 2013 to September 2013. Recent complaints are consistent with those received in the past.

The top culprits are:

  • Waggin’ Train Jerky Treats by Nestle Purina.
  • Canyon Creek Ranch Jerky Treats by Purina
  • Dogswell Happy Hips Dog Jerky
  • Vitalife Duck & Sweet Potato Recipe Twists and Vitalife Chicken Treats
  • Milo’s Kitchen Home-Style Dog Treats made by Del Monte Corp., which were pulled in January for containing unapproved antibiotics.

The FDA indicates that among the symptoms that could manifest in the hours or days following ingestion of a contaminated jerky treat are: decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus), increased water consumption, and/or increased urination. Severe cases may be diagnosed as pancreatitis, gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney failure or the resemblance to the rare kidney-related illness called Fanconi syndrome, according to ABC News.

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