Your dog and his government

By Tracie Korol

The dog days of summer may have heralded a slew of food recalls affecting people, but today, dogs are the ones in jeopardy as some of their treats have come under fire for being not only dangerous, but in some cases, deadly.

Since 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received nearly 2,200 consumer complaints relating to jerky treats. Over the last 18 months the reports have contained information on 360 canine deaths and one feline death.  Although the FDA has been actively investigating the reports of illnesses, it states it is no closer to identifying the source of the adulteration. The agency has posted cautionary advisories on its website regarding these products.  I check this site regularly because I’m a dog food wonk, but realistically, it’s not a website one would cruise for fun. http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ProductSafetyInformation/ucm295445.htm.

According to the Food Poisoning Bulletin, consumer advocates are insisting that the FDA ban dog treats, specifically all types of dog jerky that are manufactured in China. In a letter last month one consumer coalition, Food & Water Watch, asked FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to block the importation of any more Chinese dog snacks. “The FDA has shirked its responsibility to keep U.S. citizens and their pets safe, and it must step up and block these potentially deadly treats from harming more animals,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

The FDA responded that they have been aware of the issue for some time, and have conducted a multitude of tests on the Chinese dog treats in question.

Product samples were tested for Salmonella, metals, furans, pesticides, antibiotics, mycotoxins, rodenticides, nephrotoxins (such as aristolochic acid, maleic acid, paraquat, ethylene glycol, diethylene glycol, toxic hydrocarbons, melamine and related triazines) and were screened for other chemicals and poisonous compounds.

Mysteriously, those tests could never determine what, if anything, was making dogs sick. As a result, the FDA claims it cannot invoke a recall of the questionable products until a laboratory can find a dangerous ingredient in them.

The agency has not given up, however. It continues to test for various causes in Chinese dog treat jerky samples. It has also contracted private laboratories to do the same in the hopes that one of them will find a determining toxicity.

It’s worth noting that in April, the FDA admitted it sent agents to China to inspect the poultry slaughter facilities producing the jerky treats. Chinese officials denied the agents access to those facilities. Food & Water Watch contends that incident should have been reason enough for the FDA to take more substantive measures against the products.

In Washington, on behalf of pet owners after the 2007 Chinese melamine scare, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Il.) introduced a new food safety bill with Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Ct.) (The Safe Food Act – S. 654 and H.R. 1148 in the U.S. Senate and House, respectively).

Earlier this year, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) demanded the FDA clarify its current procedure for notifying consumers, retailers, and manufacturers of pending investigations. He asked,  “Would a consumer who goes to the store to purchase dog treats have any way of knowing that a particular product is under review other than scouring the FDA’s website?”  Good question.

In August, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) issued a letter to the FDA asking why the agency has not issued a recall. Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) also urged the FDA to step up its investigation with his letter to the FDA commissioner.

Representative Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) blasted the FDA, saying, “By allowing the treats to stay on the market as the years-long investigation drags on, the FDA is guaranteeing more pets will die.”

Might be time to drop a note to your elected officials because your dogs cannot write.

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