Menu Pet Recall Could Reveal Need for Centralized Reporting of Tainted Foods

Thanks to the Patriot News for this opnion piece. Safety recall points to requisite for centralized reporting system What started out as an apparent isolated...

Joy  |  Apr 11th 2007


Thanks to the Patriot News for this opnion piece.

Safety recall points to requisite for centralized reporting system

What started out as an apparent isolated case of pet food contamination involving one manufacturer and a relatively small number of dogs and cats has mushroomed to include six other companies and perhaps thousands of animals.

The fact that no one is sure of the scope at this point — and that most notably includes the Food and Drug Administration — has unmasked broader issues that also could involve public health.

The FDA, which has oversight for pet food, has struggled to get a grip on the prob lem since Menu Foods announced March 16 it was recalling some brands consumed by dogs and cats for possible contamina tion. That set off alarms among pet owners and veterinarians who have swamped the agency with some 10,000 complaints — about twice what it got on all topics last year.

Since the recall, the FDA has assigned more than 400 employees, three field labs and 20 district officials to try to respond and investigate. Yet, it’s been unable to keep up with calls and still hasn’t identified the cause of the problem.

Although the FDA has confirmed 16 deaths of dogs and cats, some state veterinary associations are reporting numbers two and three times higher. Information based on a survey by the Veterinary Information Network, a group of 30,000 veterinarians and students, showed there could be as many as 1,000 deaths and 5,000 illnesses.

Some of these pet owners claim they tried to report deaths and illnesses to the FDA but couldn’t find any spot on the agency’s Web site to do so and got repeated busy signals when they tried to call. Meanwhile, six other companies have issued recalls of major brands

Christie Keith, contributing writer for the popular Web site, PetConnection.com, has criticized the FDA for allowing the news media to report numbers its own complaint volume had to tell agency officials were artificially low, and for keeping both veterinarians and pet owners in the dark by failing to provide timely information to state veterinary networks.

Keith wrote in a article for The San Francisco Chronicle that all this uncertainty and angst is happening because there is no centralized reporting or data system for pet owners and veterinarians that is similar to the Centers for Disease Control. There also has been criticism of the lack of adequate labeling of pet food ingredients, and loose federal standards for pet foods.

US. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., plans hearings into this entire issue, and while it’s first important to identify the cause of the contaminated food and fix it, congressional investigation is clearly warranted. And not just for the sake of pet owners.

There are some common ingredients in animal and human foods and one, gluten, is under investigation by the FDA in this case. For that reason, Keith called these pets possible “canaries in the coal mine” for a larger public health issue. If that’s the case, it’s a long, dark tunnel.