Pet Food Recalls
2007 and 2012

Demand Answers
From the Store

Note|: I wrote this article as the pet food contamination situation involving suppliers from China was unfolding in 2007. The details of this episode are widely available on the net, so they won't be reviewed here. However, the list of affected brands was staggering, and even the best known and most highly trusted brands were not unaffected. This is a problem that we'll surely see again. Why? Simply put: we can't know the origin of every component of a product we buy, and the global scope of this problem can't be overstated. Global doesn't mean that the Chinese manufacturers were the only ones at the root of the problem. To say that China alone caused this is simply unfair, at best. There were greedy and careless people spread across several countries who contributed to this mess. I'm keeping this as current as possible and revising portions of it so you, the individual pet lover, can keep a link or a copy available as a guide for action when the next big recall happens.

And it may be happening now (May 9, 2012). Diamond Pet Foods has been recalling not only its own brand, but food they make for other brands. This recall affects dog and cat foods, however is was only the dog food that tested positive for salmonella.

This can change and spread to cat foods, as far as I know. If the plant where the problem occurred makes cat food, then we could see cat food affected. There are FDA guidelines for the safe manufacture of pet food. Apparently these guidelines weren't or aren't being followed there.

Please familiarize yourself with their recall. Also note that their list of recalled brands appears to be incomplete insofar as they are not mentioning the Natural Balance line. A Diamond employee told me that this is because they are only putting the brands they own on the recall page, and that since Natural Balance is "private labeled," it is not included. This is bad. They are withholding this information from you, and trusting Natural Balance to handle this. Diamond makes other private labels too. One is Kirkland, and the other is 4 Health (sold at Tractor Supply exclusively). The Wellness brand was also affected. Certain items within this brand were removed from shelves because Diamond made them for Wellness. Wellness is not mentioned on the Diamond recall web site. Neither is 4 Health. Why some private label brands were omitted from the list, and why they chose to include the Kirkland label is a mystery to me. But their list is woefully incomplete.

This morning, I had a somewhat reasonable conversation with a Natural Balance representative, who informed me that NONE of their food has been tested positive for salmonella, and that they have a tool on their website to check to see that your individual bag of food has been tested. I did what I could to try to convince this person to get management to consider making and packaging all food in house, as opposed to relying on third parties. Of course, this is an expensive proposition. But then again, so is a public relations nightmare.

A call to Wellness Pet Foods only confirmed that certain of their products were pulled from shelves. I was assured that they are no longer doing business with Diamond. For some reason, though, I had a tough time placing a lot of confidence in the representative I spoke with. She used the phrase "I assume" more that I am comfortable with in a situation like this.

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An updated version of the original article appears below, and is being updated soon (revisited on 5/9/2012):

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Let's Get Aggressive

 

The poisioning of our pets has awakened in all concerned pet lovers a need to know what is in our pet's food. We are giving our pets the food they eat. They can't go out & shop for it themselves. So we are the ones between the bad food and our pets, and if we give our pets poison pet food, we are right to feel resposible for poisoning our pets.

Just because our legal system regards pets as property is no reason for this widespread food contamination to be treated lightly. Civil penalties are limited to paying for people's pets and vet bills, to my understanding. This is all the more reason for the companies who we have trusted and patronized for decades to step up and exceed our expectations in correcting this situation. To do less would be an insult to the millions of pet owners who have, with our purchases over the years, contributed to their domination of the pet supply market.

We can go online to seek the various manufacturer's press releases & other statements about this. Most of these statements are quite similar to one another. And I think that many of these companies have taken the position that the consumer is entitled to no more than a list of their foods that were affected. They do provide toll-free telephone numbers we can call, in some cases. But we could spend the rest of our lives on hold, waiting for someone at a call center to come on the line and give us totally unsatisfactory answers about our concerns. If you're looking for a retailer to point the finger of blame at, you are likely to be pointing that finger at Petco or Petsmart.

What can we do? The first thing is to go to whoever we are relying upon to provide us with this food and demand answers and assistance.

Diamond Pet Food Recall Update (5/9/12):

As I sit here on hold, waiting for a very poorly informed representative to tell me why the Diamond recall website doen't include Natural Balance as one of the affected brands (she didn't even know that Natural Balance was affected), I am writing this to suggest that you DO NOT call their toll-free number concerning this recall. This is because you will get no answers that are of any value. In fact, the people answering calls there are not employees of Diamond. This is just lame. And so, this is just another good reason to go to the place where you buy your pet's food and have this conversation.

HERE IS WHAT YOU CAN ASK YOUR LOCAL SUPERSTORE MANAGER FOR:

1) Answers as to exactly what brands are affected, and what brands are not. And what varieties of those brands are affected. He or she should provide you with a list that you can take home and compare to what remains on your shelves.

2) Answers as to exactly what the substance in this food was. We have heard that it is an industrial contaminant (in the case of the 2007 recalls, and in 2012, it is salmonella). But we heard this from the news we listen to every day. Those who sell us our food are in many cases the same corporations who came into our neighborhoods and replaced the independent pet supply stores, and the very knowledgable professionals in these smaller stores. We need to demand that someone in these superstores gets some detailed information about each and every brand that they sold us. It is they who are by far the largest customers of these pet food manufacturers. So it is these huge chains who must apply pressure on the manufacturers. Ask to speak to the manager of the store, and demand this action. Tell them that they will lose your business permanently if they cannot make this effort and get results for you.

3) Answers as to exactly what we should look for in our pets to determine if they are affected. These retailers have the duty to provide you with a list of symptoms to look out for. Your vet can be helpful, of course. But that could only be possible if she could have some cooperation from those affected brands so that she can advise you. If your vet is not kept in the loop about what kind of poisoning she is looking for, she is at a serious disadvantage. In many cases, the manufacturers haven't been forthcoming to the public with this critical information, and that is shameful ( in the 2012 recall, at least we know that it is salmonella contamination). Once again, it is your local Petsmart or Petco in many cases who will need to coordinate an investigation into the medical implications of this widespread poisioning of our pets. Tell the manager that you hold him or her responsible to get you this information because his store sold you this food. If the manager disagrees with you or refuses to get this information for you, insist upon getting the name and number for the district manager. Call this person and begin again with him or her. In many cases, a district manager is a store manager who has come up through the ranks. He or she is probably highly skilled at dealing with retail customer complaints, and that can mean that you will need to spend more time and effort extracting some sort of meaningful commitment. But once again, your pet needs you to take these measures on his/her behalf.

4) Assistance in selecting a brand that was totally unaffected by this horrible event. Assistance in getting more information from the brands we have trusted to be safe, but were not. Some brands in these huge chains are probably perfectly safe to consume, but let's ask these suppliers to confirm this. In many cases, you will need to find a more responsible supplier of your pet's nutritonal needs. You will need to do a little traveling to get to a responsible independent pet supply professional, but isn't it worth it?

I want to repeat this: If you have gotten your pet's food from these huge chain stores, then you should go into their store and speak with the manager. If enough of these managers get enough people bending their ears, their company will - or should - issue some sort of paperwork or pamphlet or brochure containing substantial and helpful explanations and information which will help us to get past this mess.

Manufacturers who have pulled products from our pet supply stores should provide some written information about their involvement - a letter or brochure - that can be put on the shelves where their food was/is, as well in some area of the stores devoted exclusively to this recall. In addition, lists of affected brands and varieties of those brands should be available for the consumer to take home. These lists should be updated daily & reproduced in sufficient numbers to supply every concerned pet lover with a copy. It shouldn't be something that has to be extracted from the store management like some well-kept company secret.

Once again, personally, I would rely upon the knowledge and advice of an independent pet supply professional (if you have any left near you). The ones who have survived the "pet store wars" of the last 25 years (the onslaught of the warehouse mega chains) are true professionals in every sense of the word. These people are dedicated and truly invested in having the products and information you will need to provide your pet with a safe meal.

If you know of a responsible independent pet supply store where you feel confident purchasing your pet's provisions, click here to tell me their name, address & phone #. I will publish a list when I have a handful of reliable stores. Also, if you have a favorite brand of pet food which you believe is safe for your pet to eat, I would appreciate hearing about that, too. You would be helping others who feel trapped and worried about what to feed their cat or dog. (UPDATE as of 5/30/10: I simply have no way to confirm individual pet food recommendations as safe, so I won't publish a comprehensive list of food, except from my own personal standpoint. But I'm always interested in building a business relationship with a strong local independent pet supply provider. So please do me a favor and share the contact information of your favorite store with me, OK?)

What commercially available pet foods can be safely consumed by our pets? For starters, I would recommend Merrick , who produces all of their food themselves, and uses only domestic ingredients. Paul Newman's Organic Pet Food also seemed to not get caught up in this debacle, and my cats like it. Nutro is another brand I have come to trust, and my cats enjoy their canned and dry food. Although Nutro's pouch foods were affected in 2007, they've apparently taken the necessary corrective action. They now own their manufacturing facilities (as of May, 2012), and don't buy any ingredients from China (according to my conversation with a Nutro representative in May, 2012). Although, please be advised that they do source some of their ingredients from other countries (the lamb is from New Zealand, for example).

Back in 2007, I was satisfied with the news posted at Natura (sadly, I need to say now that this satisfaction was unwarranted), makers of the following brands: Innova, Evo, California Natural, Healthwise, Mother Nature, and Karma (www.naturapet.com). I understand that many brands used Menu Foods (who owned the facility where much of the poison pet food was canned in the 2007 recall) to do their canning & have few other options in the short run. Natura's CEO posted a statement pledging to either purchase or build their own canning facility from scratch (UPDATE as of 2/12/10: This is still in the planning phase nearly three years later.). He has promised that in the meantime, Natura will keep their own QC inspectors at the Menu Foods plant (It is my understanding that this is not happening), and will use only domestic ingredients (ingredients are NOT all domestic, according to a Natura customer service representative. However, it is their contention that nothing from China is used - according to this same phone representative on 2/12/10.) I need to say here that I'm sad to make these changes in what I reported in 2007, but I believe this is an accurate appraisal of their situation in 2010. I also regret impuning a company that was NOT IMPLICATED in the original crisis, but it now appears that they've made more than one promise that remains unkept. Since their pledges to take these measures seemed reasonable and prudent at the time, why did they abandon all three strategies? And did other companies let their PR releases handle the problem in a similar way? Three years later, what has changed?

I urge you to read all of the various companies' statements addressing this recall and draw your own conclusions. If the statement at a company's website is vague or incomplete, do not buy their product. Since Diamond's 2012 list of recalled foods is also not complete, I've tried to identify here all of the brands that they had ANY involvement with, and you should seek answers from your local store concerning any of these brands.

There are long-term implications of feeding our pets contaminated food. Symptoms may be delayed by years, and then suddenly manifest themselves in a number of ways, not the least of which is organ failure and allergies. Some proactive measures on our part now may help prevent this in the future. I highly recommend this book on pet allergies for anyone suspecting that their pet is allergic to their food. It is an eye-opening look at some major causes of suffering in our pets. This book isn't for the faint of heart, but is certainly has changed the way I look at the food I put in my cat bowls.

I recently went to a well established feed store in Chester County, PA, and watched a woman stand, almost paralyzed, in front of the vast canned cat food rack. Finally, I asked her if she was trying to find cat food that was not poisoned. She almost looked relieved when I asked her this, and I wonder how many more people like her are doing the best they can with the limited information that has come out from the various brands. She was at least looking to see if the can contained wheat gluten. That is a very good start, and I told her that she was a step ahead of many pet owners by just taking the time to read the label. But it's a shame that just going out for cat food had to be a chore filled with trepidation and apprehension for her. In the same store, I have asked an employee to show me a couple of brands that were unaffected by this contamination. I must say that he stepped up to the plate and took as much time as I needed to feel a little better about what I was about to open up for my cats.

You may not trust any brands at this time. That may not be a bad strategy - just to let them all win back your trust. In the meantime, you might consider cooking for your pet. Get creative. They might snub human food at first, but they will learn to eat it. But don't just open a can of tuna for your cat. Remember that pets need wholesome foods just like we do. Please consult your veterinarian concerning your pet's individual nutritional needs, but don't feed your pet a brand that you haven't researched. Just because the brand name has the word "Science" or "Dr. this or that" or "Natural" doesn't mean it's healthy.

(An informative but not necessarily complete timeline and discussion of the 2007 pet food contamination story can be read here.)

 

-tommy

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