Extensive Notes From Durbin Hearing

Great barks and meows go out to Rhon, Winston's furmom, for barking in these notes and Baby Red Snapper for taking the time to watch...

Baby Red Snapper.jpg

Great barks and meows go out to Rhon, Winston’s furmom, for barking in these notes and Baby Red Snapper for taking the time to watch the Durbin hearing and make notes!

Rhon, Winston’s Mom wrote:
Winston, received this paw mail from Baby Red Snapper with notes from the Senate hearing. (can I say how much I LOVE my Senator from Illinois?).

Subject: Senate Hearings of Pet Food Recall Sent: Fri Apr 13

I don’t know if all this will fit in a message, but I wanted you to have a copy of my blog from yesterday in the event that you were unable to watch the Senate hearing.

What happened at the Senate pet food hearing

I would like to request that if anyone finds a full transcript or video that you would notify me. In the meantime, here are some of my hastily scribbled notes:

Senator Robert Byrd from West Virginia talked about the special relationship between pets and their owners. He said many view their pets as not just dogs or cats but members of the family and that he is one of those people. He said his little dog sleeps on his bed and goes with him to the Senate office, and that pets are companions, soulmates, and hedges against emotional turmoil for human beings. He asserted that they enhance the mental health and well-being for millions of Americans, and that when the FDA protects pets, the FDA protects the health of millions of Americans. He expressed his hope that we will never have to face a similar problem in the future.

Senator Byrd requested that Dr. Sundlof from FDA CVM be placed UNDER OATH in order to answer the question as to whether or not we have assurance from the FDA that all the contaminated pet food has now been identified. Sundlof took his oath and replied that the FDA ‘thinks’ they have accounted for just about all of it but are continuing to look.

Sundlof stated that the FDA has received close to 15,000 telephone reports but cannot provide any numbers as to how many animals have been made sick or killed because at this point they are still focusing on getting the food off the market. Developing criteria to assess the reports to establish how many are truly related to the food and coming up with numbers is something that will have to come later. Sundlof confirmed that the FDA knows that the contaminated wheat gluten entered the country in November of 2006. Sundlof stated that pet food manufacturers are responsible for insuring that their ingredients are free of contaminants.

Senator Durbin wanted to know what the Center for Disease Control (CDC) involvement has been. Sundlof stated that the FDA asked the CDC to put an emphasis on increased incidents of kidney failure in people. Durbin then wanted to know if there had been an increased incidence, and Sundlof said he would have to get back to CDC before he could answer that question.

Dr. Claudia Kirk veterinary medicine professor at the University of Tennessee and former employee of a pet food company which was not named, stated that she believes our food supply is at risk for contaminants and agroterrorism. She stated she does not believe melamine would have been detected by standard screening. She expressed concern about a lack of adequate tracking of our food supply, illustrated by the fact that it has been a month and contaminated food is still yet being discovered and recalled, allowing pets an additional month to eat it and to sicken and die. She stated that she believes from herexperience as a pet food employee that most manufacturers are diligent, but that making it mandatory for them to report adverse events immediately might be a good idea. She suggested the establishment of a centralized site for the public and veterinarians to report adverse events from pet food, and that this would also act as a sentinel for the human food supply. She related that we will never know how many pets became ill or died because for many the pet food labels are gone and the pets are cremated or buried.

Elizabeth Hodgkins, veterinarian, expressed concern that there have been three national level recalls of pet food in 18 months. She stated that breaches of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which require that pet food ingredients not be
adulterated are occurring at an alarming rate, with adulterated ingredients repeatedly entering the pet food supply, as there is no systematic inspection of suppliers or ingredients. However, she stated she did not believe that govt. inspections could solve the problem as it is impossible to test every ingredient batch. She stated that the AAFCO statement which appears on pet foods is so broad and sweeping that it means nothing. She proposed a truth in pet food initiative whereby FDA adhere to the letter of the law that a pet food label may not be false or misleading. She would like labels to identify what companies are testing as stringently as possible and what companies are not, to provide a level of competition among companies and to help consumers to choose products.

Dr. Nelson, president of AAFCO stated that the AAFCO itself has no regulatory authority. He stated the AAFCO provides de facto standards for the formulation, distribution, and labelling of pet foods. He called this providing guidance through self regulation. Nelson stated that the AAFCO developed a model food safety program in 2001, but he doesn’t think that enough manufacturers have adopted it. He expressed the belief that regulations should be implemented at the state level and funded, and flatly stated that what is in place at this time is not adequate.

Sen. Durbin asked Dr. Nelson what percentage of the AAFCO’s budget comes from the pet food industry. Nelson replied that he did not know, and that the AAFCO only has one paid employee. Nelson also stated that the AAFCO statement which
appears on pet food is simply a statement of general nutritional adequacy, not safety, or that in general terms “these ingredients fed to a dog are generally safe”. Nelson stated that Wisconsin, as a member state of AAFCO, does perform some inspections. This was the only state that he named.

Duane Ekedahl, Pet Food Institute Executive Director, asserted that pet food is the most highly regulated product on the supermarket shelf.

Ekedahl’s statement that pet food is highly regulated was challenged by Durbin. Durbin wanted to know how Ekedahl could say pet food was highly regulated when:
Only 30% of facilities have been inspected once or twice over a 3 year period;
there is no penalty for failure to report a problem with a pet food;
there is no govt. penalty for failing to recall a product; claims on labels beyond what can be made for human food are allowed;
there is no requirement to report adverse events reported to the pet food manf. to anyone in a timely fashion.

Ekedahl responded that companies “do the right thing” because the marketplace will deal with it.

Durbin asked Ekedahl if he considered THE FACT of Menu Foods reporting to the FDA three weeks after they knew there was a problem was timely. Ekedahl repeatedly asserted that he did not have enough knowledge of the facts to answer this question. Durbin told Ekedahl he should have gotten the facts before he came to the hearing.

Senator Kohl wanted to know about cross contamination when making pet food lines. Dr. Kirk, the former pet food employee vet., stated that most major manufacturers run a line of dummy ingredients to clean the line between runs and then hand clean it as well. However, she admitted she knows they do not all do it, as evidenced by experience of finding some kibbles and bits in some of her canned cat food. Nelson of the AAFCO stated there is no requirement for companies to clean their lines between productions other than for medicated feeds.

Robert Bennett of Utah, who is on the appropriations subcommittee for the FDA, questioned Hodgins again about her truth in labelling idea, and then requested Ekedahl’s opinion of such. Ekedahl stated he did not believe it was necessary.

Bennett also wanted to know if some kind of hazard analysis protocols which are in place for human foods would be a good idea for pet foods, and would be feasible for pet foods. Nelson stated that some of the process controls developed by AAFCO are similar to these hazard analysis protocols, but adoption of these guidelines by the states is voluntary. Dr. Kirk stated that
some areas of the pet food industry are highly regulated but others are not monitored at all.

End of notes

Addition to notes:

If you missed the TV coverage or webcast of the Senate pet food hearing, there are some notes on it here:
Dogged Blog

I have heard that the video will at some point be available here, but I’m not convinced that is correct:
United States Senate Committee on Appropriations
(Joy note — I checked this link today and it is not available at this time.)

..>..>..> ..> ..>..>..> ..> A couple of things I want to add that I overlooked in my first post:

Senator Durbin stated that websites such as Pet Connection and Veterinary Information Network plus bloggers and pet owners on the internet had done a better job than the federal govt. of getting information out about the pet food recall.

He also told Dr. Sundlof of FDA CVM that the information provided on their website was user UNfriendly in that consumers had to click on numerous individual press releases instead of being provided one list including all of the recalled products so far. He stated that he did not see why SOMEONE at the FDA could not take the time to condense this information into one
complete list. Sundlof’s response was that this was a point well taken.

I have written to Senator Durbin to thank him for calling this hearing, and I hope many others have done so as well. Hopefully, positive changes will result.

Here’s hoping you’re right, Baby Red Snapper!

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