Still More Recall Questions Than Answers

by Veterinary Practice News Editors | April 17, 2009 4:06 pm

The Menu Foods Inc. pet-food recall, which began mid-March and has grown to include more than 100 brands, is still making headlines.

The list continued to grow at press time, including the addition of the first ferret food: 8 in 1 Ferret Ultra-Blend Advanced Nutrition Diet.

People have been concerned about what to feed their pets, says Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, chair of the Department of Medicine at The Animal Medical Center in New York City. But if you look at the overall picture, she adds, only a small percentage of pet food has been recalled.

“Most pet food is actually OK to feed your pet,” Dr. Hohenhaus says, adding that the real problem lies in the ongoing recall announcements.

“People have anxiety because they pick a food that they think is safe, and then because it is a moving target, it may not be safe tomorrow,” she says.

From Jan. 1 to March 31, AMC saw about 35 cases of nephrotoxicity, representing about half dogs and half cats, in which pets with kidney failure had eaten the recalled foods. Hohenhaus says that the hospital has seen deaths associated with the recall, but the exact number has not been determined.

At this point, much remains unknown. Hohenhaus and others wonder about the long-term effects in animals that ate the food, went into renal failure and recovered but did not regain normal kidney function.

“Is that kidney function going to stay abnormal, or is it going to progress over time, and how rapidly will it progress and will it ultimately cause the animal to die?” she asks. “We have no idea.”

Hohenhaus also points out that previous studies show that melamine, the contaminant in the foods, may have cancer-causing properties in rats when given in large quantities. Even though it is unknown how much melamine was actually in the pet food, she questions whether similar effects will be seen in pets down the road.

Nancy Zimmerman, DVM, senior medical advisor for Banfield, agrees that there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

“The veterinary community is still looking for answers,” Dr. Zimmerman says. “It may take months or even years to get those answers.”
In the meantime, she says Banfield, The Pet Hospital, will continue to maintain its pet food recall data.

At press time, Banfield had confirmed 11 deaths (nine cats and two dogs) associated with the tainted food. Overall, the company’s veterinarians had seen about 2,420 pets (650 cats and 1,770 dogs) suspected of eating a recalled pet food.

“Of these pets, most were healthy and had not been affected,” says Elizabeth Lund, DVM, Ph.D., Banfield’s senior director of research.
“Those pets we have treated for eating a tainted food are getting better and the number of pet food recall cases in our practice has diminished quite a bit during the last few weeks.”

Zimmerman says that out of courtesy and a concern for pet owners, Banfield is offering a 25 percent discount to all pet owners whose pets were affected by the recall.

In addition, the Banfield Charitable Trust is offering $50,000 in grants to those pet owners who don’t have the financial ability to test or care for their pets in connection with the pet food recall. About $25,000 has already been distributed.

Outside the Clinics

Some pet owners have chosen to feed homemade diets after considering the safety of pet foods. In response, the Companion Animal Parasite Council recently issued a pet food alert—found at[1]—warning consumers of the dangers associated with feeding pets undercooked meat.

Still, many consumers remain confident about pet foods, according to a new survey commissioned by the Pet Food Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based association that represents pet food manufacturers.

Seventy percent of pet owners responding to the poll, which was conducted by a third-party polling agency, said their opinion about pet food at this time is “favorable” or “very favorable,” says Duane Ekedahl, president of the institute.

And although numerous brands were affected by the recall and many media reports indicated that pet owners were turning to home cooking for their pets, at press time, sales of pet food had declined by only 3 percent to 4 percent, he adds, citing statistics from Information Resources Inc.

“Those numbers indicate that we have a recovery here and that, in fact, the consumers have maintained their confidence through this and in the product,” Ekedahl says.

The Pet Food Institute is still looking to strengthen industry procedures and safeguards.

It recently formed the National Pet Food Commission, which comprises veterinarians, toxicologists, state and federal regulators and nutritionists.

More than 1,300 pet food industry leaders recently gathered for the annual Petfood Forum and Petfood Forum Europe—presented by Petfood Industry magazine and Watt Publishing Co.—to discuss protocols and procedures in response to the recall.

One of the forum’s goals was to provide forum for industry people to network and discuss the recall without feeling on guard, says Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry.

Key topics at the forum included how the recall has affected quality-assurance procedures, traceability aspects of the business and potential procedures to help ensure the safety and health of family pets.

“There’s a lot more talk now on self-policing,” Phillips-Donaldson says. “There’s inevitably going to be some changes on the regulatory level, but people in the industry are saying we need to do this better ourselves.”

The attendees also discussed establishing a crisis program designed to assist and/or honor those families and pets affected by the contaminated food.

A Petfood Industry Advisory Board is currently in the works. Goals and objectives of the group are still being discussed, as well as who will sit on the board.

Another group will be convening to discuss pet food safety. ChemNutra, an importer of nutritional and pharmaceutical chemicals from China to the United States, has called for a national Pet Food Ingredients Safety Summit.

The summit, which is for ingredients importers, analysis laboratories and manufacturers, aims to begin drafting import standards and specifications for pet food ingredients, not only from China, but from around the world.

The conference is tentatively scheduled for July 14 in Las Vegas.

“We are not trying to in any way supersede or interfere with the government agencies who will also, we’re sure, be establishing new protocols,” says Steve Miller, chief executive officer of ChemNutra.

“Rather, we seek to move for self-improvement at the quickest possible pace, even while new rules or legislation are being considered.”

He says the meeting’s purpose is to establish a process for collectively drafting new testing and import standards for pet foods and to discern the industry’s interest in establishing a new trade association with the mission to ensure the safety of pet food ingredients and pet food.


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