[ History: This is the Fourteenth installment in an ongoing report – you can catch up on the story with the links in my previous blog post. This article first appeared on AnimalsVote.org on June 4, 2014. My commentary on these developments follows at the bottom. For those of you who have already read the article, you may just want to skip down. ]
There have been three recent major developments regarding the ongoing investigation of Chicken Jerky Treats made in China, including FDA updates, retailer news, and a settlement agreement from Nestle Purina.
- The FDA updated their website with additional information, including updated statistics about the victims: 5,600 dogs sickened… 1,000 dogs have died… 24 cats and 3 people have all become sick from chicken jerky treats. Approximately 1,800 cases have been reported in just the past 6 months.
- Big box retailers Petco and PetSmart have both announced that they will no longer sell pet treats made in China. Petco is making this policy effective by the end of the year, but PetSmart will not make the change until March of 2015 probably due to contractual obligations.
- The lawsuit consumers brought against Nestle Purina was settled on May 30.
From early on, pet advocates have been petitioning the FDA for a better system for warning consumers about possible dangers in pet foods or treats. When the FDA failed to require a mandatory recall, advocates took matters into their own hands and stickered store shelves and products with warning labels. They spoke to store managers and corporate offices, trying to get stores to pull the products off of shelves to protect the pets of people who were still unaware of the dangers. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. But, the numbers don’t lie. Nestle Purina and Del Monte may have voluntarily recalled China made Chicken Jerky 14 months ago, but the number of new cases reported by the FDA in just the past 6 months indicate that some pet owners are still unaware of the danger lurking in those bags. Clearly, there is a communication failure between the FDA and consumers.
Petco and PetSmart finally decided to take a proactive stand and stop selling treats made in China, but it’s curious that 1,000 pets had to die, and three human cases had to be reported before that decision was reached. Although their new resolve is in the right direction, it remains somewhat incomplete, as it does not include products whose ingredients are sourced in China.
The settlement between the defendants (Nestle Purina PetCare) and consumers was reached just two weeks after the FDA released their updated files. The settlement creates a fund of $6.5 million dollars, and establishes procedures that would permit consumers to submit claims for monetary relief. The agreement also requires Nestle Purina to undertake enhanced quality assurance measures and modify certain language on its packaging. The settlement is now waiting for the judge’s approval.
In light of the number of reported cases, 6.5 million doesn’t seem sufficient to compensate consumers, but the case has never been about the money, but about keeping other pets safe. The things that consumers fought for, they have won: there was an investigation, a recall, changes made in the manufacturing process and packaging of the treats, and there is legislation pending that will change the way the FDA notifies consumers when a product poses a health risk.
The group ‘Animal Parents Against Pet Treats Made in China’ showed just how much a group of like-minded individuals can accomplish via social networking, and is responsible for these hard-won victories.
APAPTMIC has just drafted an open letter to the CEOs of Petco and PetSmart, issuing a challenge to take their resolve one step further. You can view the letter HERE.
CALL TO ACTION: The FDA has an open comment period regarding implementing the Food and Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Section 211, which outlines new procedures for notifying consumers of products that pose a health risk. Section 211 requires that consumers be notified, at a POINT OF SALE level, if a product they are buying is under FDA alert, warning or recall. Please take a moment to comment on the importance of warnings being visible at the point of sale.
I’ve been following and reporting on this story for a long time. I’ve had articles appear in examiner.com, on Pet Pardons news, here Up on the Woof, and most recently, on AnimalsVote.org. I’ve walked up to complete strangers in the grocery store aisles and taken CJT’s out of their hands and told them of the danger. I’ve left printed warnings on store shelves and I’ve stickered store product with warnings. I have no stake in this case, except that I wanted what APAPTMIC wanted: to get the word out — to warn other pet owners and prevent more dogs from dying. But what we were doing, the FDA should have been doing.
APAPTMIC has fought long and hard, and it’s true that the lawsuit was never about the money. For one thing, the folks who brought this case were too smart for that. The law sees pets as property, and nobody had any illusions that the law would assign more value to their pets than a lawn mower. What the lawsuit sought to do, it has done via two avenues: this settlement, and section 211 of the FSMA. Because these pet parents made the noise they did, Nestle Purina and Del Monte (though Del Monte’s lawsuit is separate and not a part of this settlement) have both changed things in the manufacturing process of CJT. For one thing, they have both gone to a single meat supplier in China, which should afford them better control of quality. Both companies have also released treats that they say are made in the USA. If the meat for these USA made treats is sourced in China, I’m fairly certain that the settlement requires them to change the packaging to reflect that.
If section 211 of the FSMA passes, warnings about products under investigation will be posted publicly at point of sale, not buried in the back pages of the FDA website.
But, I am still conflicted about the settlement. I understand why it was accepted by those involved…and when you consider the paltry sum of 6.5M, it’s clear that the most important part of the settlement is in the stipulations, not the payout. But what isn’t mentioned in this article is that Nestle Purina does not take any blame. The wording regarding this in the settlement is:
“WHEREAS, Defendants deny any wrongdoing or liability, or that Plaintiffs’ claims have merit, but have concluded that they will enter into this Agreement, among other reasons, in order to avoid the further expense, inconvenience, burden, distractions, uncertainty, and risk of litigation and any other present or future litigation arising out of the facts that gave rise to the litigation in the Actions;”,
…And…. that doesn’t sit well with me. Logically, a corporation the size of Nestle Purina is not deterred by lengthy lawsuits. They have a team of lawyers and they certainly have the budget for it. The pet parents who brought the suit against them have far more to fear from a drawn out process than they do. That NP is willing to settle suggests that they *know* they are to blame, but they fall short of announcing that publicly, and I think that stinks. It feels like ‘shut-up-and-go-away-now’ money to me. NP wants this over with, so they can get on with the business of making money.
As for Petco and Petsmart, kudos to them, even if it’s going to take them into 2015 before they are able to rid their shelves of all the treats made in China. Some people are huffing and puffing that it’s not happening immediately, but you have to remember that they have contractual agreements with the companies who supply them, and it could very well take them a little longer than we’d like in order to do things legally.
But they are only 2 stores…and we’ve got to get rid of this garbage everywhere…so I don’t expect any of the advocates who have been involved thus far are going to sit on their laurels. This train still has a lot of stops until we reach that destination: Walmart, Costco, BJs, Sam’s Club, Giant Eagle, Pet Supplies Plus…
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the FDA’s reveal of the 3 human cases and the Petco announcement and the settlement all came on each other’s heels. I had to chuckle though, when I read there were human cases, because I have often tasted my dogs’ “all natural” treats when they claim to be all that and a bag of chips. Apparently, I am not alone.