One good thing came out of the pet food recall three years ago – it urged manufacturers and regulatory bodies to pay more attention to the ingredients that go into products.
Few of us will forget 2007 in a hurry. In March of that year, Menu Foods announced a nationwide recall of more than 40 brands of dog and cat food. This wasn’t just a minor inconvenience: cats and dogs that ate the affected foods suffered serious kidney problems. To make matters worse, the number of products on the recall list soon climbed to nearly 180.
Before it was over, hundreds of animals died, and countless others now live with permanent kidney disease. The culprit was found to be Chinese-imported glutens tainted with chemical melamine. With their faith in many pet food manufacturers shattered, people grappled with fear over what to feed their beloved companions.
Almost a year after the recall, a federal grand jury indicted Chinese and American executives for their roles in importing contaminated products into the United States. Two Chinese companies were closed, and Shanghai city food and drug authorities announced a new testing system for food safety. The pet food industry in the United States faced a whole new level of scrutiny from both consumers and the federal government.
Improving ingredient safety
One change implemented after the recall was the FDA’s Amendments Act of 2007, part of which addresses the pet food industry and the dissemination of information. The Act requires the FDA to establish pet food ingredient and processing standards and definitions, and update labeling standards to include nutritional and ingredient information.
The Act also means food companies must report any contamination within 24 hours – or face serious penalties. It also requires that the FDA make more detailed reports to Congress regarding food inspections, and maintain a searchable, user-friendly recall list on its website.
Consumers and manufacturers have tightened up their approach to pet food safety too. Since the recall, most of us are placing new value on how we fill our animals’ bowls. Consumers are turning toward products made in North America, where known industry standards are in place.
Manufacturers are also taking extra steps to help ensure the ingredients that go into their products are safe. Menu Foods and many other companies have publicized their plans to phase out imported ingredients, and many are embracing new labels that clearly indicate the source of food ingredients.
Ahead of the game
Very few premium pet food companies were affected by the recall, because they were already factoring ingredient safety and quality into their manufacturing processes. As an example, Holly Sher, President of Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Company, says the family-owned business has always ensured the quality of its foods by placing high value on knowing the source of ingredients. “We use local fresh ingredients from the Chicago area,” she says Primal Pet Foods was also unaffected by the recall.
President Matt Koss says one change he’s seen since the tragedy is an increase in people’s thirst for information. “Consumers are more savvy, doing research, making inquiries, wanting to know the source of ingredients,” he says. “There’s a bigger demand for human grade products, and those made in the US. There’s also a heightened awareness from the FDA as to the ingredients used, and there are more stringent demands and actions regarding the use of imported ingredients.” Matt sees this growing consumer knowledge as a positive step, and in response has increased his company’s customer support.
You may not be able to completely protect your dog or cat, but buying premium products and becoming an educated consumer are the two best steps you can take. In the event of another recall, having sound knowledge will help you avoid panic and ensure that your furry friend stays healthy.
7 Tips For You
Despite the positive changes that have been made, future recalls could still happen. Any food can become contaminated. You can help keep your animal safe by following these seven tips:
1. Turn to the experts.
Get a holistic or integrative veterinarian’s recommendation for food to give your companion. Avoiding certain foods or ingredients out of fear can result in nutritional deficiencies.
2. Read and research.
“Be aware of good science-based manufacturing practices, procedures, quality of ingredients, formulas and company integrity,” says Patti Saladay of Northwest Naturals, another premium pet food company whose products were not affected by the recall.
3. Check the grade.
Human grade ingredients are subject to tighter standards than animal grade. “We’re a USDA active human facility,” says Patti. “We view manufacturing pet food the same as we do human food under the same guidelines, procedures and rules.”
4. Speak up.
Call the pet food company if you have any questions, and steer clear of any company that doesn’t readily provide simple, clear answers.
5. Offer the best.
Keep your dog or cat’s immune system strong by feeding him the highest quality food your budget will allow.
6. Keep the packaging.
If you pour dry food into another bin, tuck away the original package until all the food is eaten. Without the packaging, you’ll have no way of knowing if the food was included in a recall.
7. Check with the FDA
In the event of a recall, check the FDA’s recall site at www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/ newpetfoodrecalls to make sure your animal’s food has not been added.