On February 14, President Obama hosted a visit for Vice President Xi Jinping of China to discuss our countries’ differences over trade, currency and human rights. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and several other senators took the opportunity to meet with the visiting dignitary and discuss their concerns over the quality of pet food items coming from his country. Brown said that Vice President Xi Jinping was made aware of the rising concern among US citizens that pet food and treats being imported from China are unsafe.
On Sunday, Senator Brown held another news conference at the Ohio Humane Society in Hilliard Ohio about tainted chicken jerky treats from China. It was Brown’s second public statement to the Food and Drug Administration regarding the treats that are reported to have been causing illness and death in pets across the country.
The conference on February 19 came in the wake of 400 new complaints to the FDA about pets becoming ill after eating the treats. Although the FDA has been trying to find the contaminant causing the illnesses, they have been unable to pinpoint the specific toxicant. As a result, manufacturers have not been required by law to remove the products from store shelves, keeping the potentially dangerous treats readily available to the public.
In December of 2008, when pets began falling ill in Australia, University of Sydney researchers made an epidemiological connection linking the illnesses to the consumption of chicken treats imported from China. Australian dog treat importer KraMar withdrew its Supa Naturals Chicken breast strips from the Australian market as a precaution, even though a specific toxicant wasn’t pinpointed.
Supa Naturals Chicken breast strips is one of Australia’s highest selling dog snacks.
“A link has not been scientifically established. It is a mystery to us, but in the interests of animal welfare we have decided to take this decision,” said KraMar’s CEO Brian Fouche about the voluntary recall.
If only American companies put pet health above profits. The leading US importer of chicken jerky treats has stubbornly refused to recall. Cases of their products line the shelves at Giant Eagle, Wal Mart, Walgreens and other stores, and coupons for consumers continue to be found in newspapers and circulars.
Like now, the symptoms pets exhibited in Australia in 2008 were consistent with Acquired Fanconi’s Syndrome, an uncommon disease characterized by elevated levels of glucose in urine but not in blood. The glucose damages the kidney’s ability to reabsorb nutrients and electrolytes. The kidneys become chronically compromised, sometimes resulting in death.
One of the points that Senator Brown pressed in his first news conference on February 7 was that the FDA has not been issuing a public enough warning for consumers and needs to improve its notification system. The FDA has been posting warnings associated with the treats since 2007, but most consumers are not aware of the notices. Typically FDA post warnings are posted on their website, which consumers don’t tend to check unless a product has been brought to light in the mainstream media. You can download the warning here*. Although Brown sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg on February 7 about these issues, he still has not received any official response. Senator Brown has again urged the FDA to step up their investigation.
The FDA has tested the treats for certain known contaminants with negative results. Laboratories don’t just test products arbitrarily. Toxicologists need to have an idea of what contaminants to test for, otherwise, it’s just a stab in the dark.
Karyn Bischoff, Clinical Toxicologist/Assistant Professor at NY State Animal Health Diagnostic Center, Cornell, said:
“The tricky part of this situation is that the clinical signs and kidney changes are not typical of common veterinary toxicoses. This could be something completely new, like melamine was a few years ago. Melamine was not even considered to be particularly toxic, so nobody really thought to look for it. I don’t know if we have a similar situation here, but this doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen before.”
Cornell is not currently testing treats, but has indicated that they may be interested in doing so.
With the treats still available in stores and manufacturers unwilling to issue a precautionary recall, angry consumers have started a grassroots movement to spread the word, advocate for animals that are sick or have died, and put pressure on manufacturers to issue voluntary recall.
The Facebook advocacy group Animal Parents Against Pet Treats Made in China has been posting complaints on manufacturer’s websites and Facebook pages, consumer affairs sites, pet blogs, and YouTube. They have posted copies of the FDA warning in stores and have even pulled treats off of shelves themselves, confronting store managers and asking them to stop stocking the dangerous products – most times falling on deaf ears.
Scores of pet parents have joined the group sharing their grief, expressing their frustration and organizing information for others. If your pet has become ill with symptoms such as
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased activity
- Increased water consumption
- Increased urination
and you have been feeding it jerky treats from China please report it to the FDA.
In the absence of a named contaminant, the pet food companies importing the treats from China have petitioned news sites and blogs to remove and desist references to their specific brands. A lengthy list of brands that are imported from China can still be found on the Animal Parents Against Pet Treats Made in China Facebook page.
* Author’s note: The FDA warning has been pasted into a print-friendly document with some of the more important text highlighted, which is why it is being offered for download from a third site: the author’s own website.