[History: This article first appeared on the Pet Pardons News website August 22, 2012. It is the sixth installment in an ongoing report – click here for the earlier articles:part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5]
If you take a stroll down the pet aisle of your local Wal-mart, Giant Eagle, Costco or Target, you will more than likely be able to find Nestle Purina Waggin Train or Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky Treats on the shelves, even though there have been more than 2,000 complaints from consumers that their pets have gotten ill or died from eating them. What you will not find on the shelves is a caution to consumers; even though the FDA has issued multiple warnings about the treats which are imported from China. Last month, the agency even expanded the caution to include duck and sweet potato jerky treats.
The FDA has been following up on complaints from consumers since November of 2011, when pets began falling ill and in some cases dying after eating the treats. To date, they have still not been able to pinpoint a specific toxin to blame, although a link between illness and ingestion of the treats is unchallenged. There have been more than 2,000 reports of illnesses or deaths in U.S. dogs that ate jerky treats made in China, and there are at least two consumer class action suits filed against the pet food companies importing the treats.
In April, after testing proved inconclusive, the FDA decided to inspect the Chinese plants where the treats are manufactured for U.S. companies. They selected five facilities associated with the highest numbers of pet illness reports in the U.S.: Gambol Pet Products Co. Ltd.; Shandong Honva Food Co. Ltd.; and Shandong Petswell Food Co. Ltd., all in Liaocheng, China, and Jinan Uniwell Pet Food Co. Ltd. in Jinan, China, according to reports posted August 15 on the FDA’s animal and veterinary website.
The fifth report is not yet available for download, but it is expected to be the inspection results from JOC Great Wall Corp. Ltd. of Nanjing, China, which according to ImportGenius produces and supplies the treats for Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch.
Investigators were sent for several days to each of the plants, but according to a report by NBC news Wednesday, they met with some resistance from Chinese officials, who would not allow the FDA to take samples from any of the facilities, unless they agreed to test them in Chinese-run laboratories or a third-party lab in China. As a result, “no samples were collected during this inspection,” wrote Dennis L. Doupnik, an FDA investigator who visited the sites.
Keith Schopp, Nestle Purina’s vice president of public relations clarified that neither Nestle Purina nor the Chinese plants manufacturing treats for them denied inspectors samples, but that the terms of the inspection were set by the U.S. and Chinese governments.
The FDA Establishment Inspection Reports, which are available for download from their website, show that testing of the meat and raw materials at the Chinese plants has been sporadic at best, even though the finished products are exported to feed the 78.2 million pet dogs in the U.S.
The inspections did provide the FDA with important information, such as ingredients and raw materials, manufacturing equipment, heat treating of products, packaging, quality control, and sanitation. Although the inspections helped the FDA identify more avenues of investigation, they found no solid indication of contamination.
The FDA did, however, identify concerns about the record keeping practices of several of the plants. One plant in particular had falsified receiving documents for glycerin, which is an ingredient in the jerky pet treats. As a result, the Chinese authority, the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), informed the FDA that it had seized products at that facility and suspended exports. FDA continues to investigate glycerin as a potential source of the illnesses. The FDA reports that they and AQSIQ are meeting regularly to share findings and discuss further investigational approaches.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, has been championing consumer complaints since January. He said in a statement Wednesday that Chinese officials’ refusal to release samples to U.S. inspectors should be grounds for banning the products from import — or for a mandatory recall.
“ I would pull them all off the market,” Kucinich said.
Consumers have organized over the past 8 months. There are at least 5,592 members of The Facebook Group Animal Parents Against Pet Treats Made in China!. Members have picketed stores, placed their own warnings on shelves and petitioned the FDA to urge Nestle Purina and other jerky treat manufacturers to voluntarily recall the products. However, FDA officials have said they can’t force a recall based only on customer complaints, no matter how many pets have died.