On March 16, 2007 the ground shook for every dog and cat person in North America. It was as if there was an earthquake – a big one – and the aftershocks just keep on coming. The question is – when will it end? And another question – when did it really begin? What exactly is the truth behind the Pet Food Recall – the largest of its kind in U.S. history?
In my last Letter from the Editor – Zach’s Nine Lives (written prior to the Pet Food Recall), I described how back in October 2006 my cat Zach mysteriously and suddenly experienced severe kidney failure and as far as the three vets I consulted were concerned – he was at death’s door. At the time of this out-of-the-blue incident, Zach was a nine-year-old, healthy, and strapping cat. Miraculously, thanks to the vets’ actions, Zach’s fortitude, my determination, and perhaps sheer luck, he pulled through. His favorite food was one which was “sliced in gravy” – and one of the main ingredients – wheat gluten. Zach’s food is not on the pet food recall list. However, other food produced by that company is. Despite what they say, I can’t help but wonder if he ate tainted food.
On the company’s website, they state that within hours of the March 30 FDA announcement of the melamine contamination, they had determined that a limited quantity of the FDA-identified contaminated wheat gluten had been used in specific, limited production runs at one of their pet food manufacturing facilities. The company then notified the FDA and immediately began the recall process of limited quantities of canned dog food with specific date codes. The key word they continue to stress -- limited.
I called the company and spoke with three people – all of whom I must admit, were very pleasant. However, the last person whom I spoke with at length (in the veterinary department) was not very forthcoming with any specific information. She continued to contend that the food I fed Zach could not possibly have been tainted. When I asked her where the company purchased their wheat gluten from, she proceeded to give me an overview of the entire global market, noting that many things (well, most) are purchased abroad. I reiterated my question: Where do you buy your wheat gluten from? Is it China? She then told me that was “proprietary information that they don’t give out.” But, let’s put it this way – I was left believing all or most was purchased there. Additionally, I read where in the future it may be mandatory that food is labeled with its country of origin. As far as I'm concerned, we should be entitled to know this information.
I could be wrong about my hunch, but sometimes coincidences – especially dire ones, are not just coincidences.
By the way, I also called the FDA and left a message on their automated system about Zach getting sick. According to their outgoing message, someone will call me back. No one has yet to call me back. I know they are swamped, reportedly as of this month receiving over 17,000 calls. I’ll let you know if they call.
I have been on the internet, pouring through websites, forums, and blogs, reading about people who suspect their dog or cat ate tainted food – and some say that the specific pet food their pet ate is not on the list. This begs the question: What is the truth? Are these all just coincidences? Of course, there is going to be a certain number of animals who experience renal failure. The woman at the pet food company did ask me how old Zach was, and what his health condition was at the time of his renal failure. Again, he was nine, and his health, good.
The one consistent note throughout the recall has been the inconsistency of information. After each recall, there is some sense of pacification and a readiness to convince the public that everything remaining on store shelves is safe. But, time and time again, this has proven not to be true as another food or treat is recalled. And while I’m sure there has been a sincere effort by many people involved in the investigation to get to the truth, it seems the truth has been too slow in coming for too many people and their animals.
Even after hearing that all food on store shelves is safe, I read (and relayed on Green Paw) whereby the FDA warned consumers to be alert as some products already identified as tainted were still on store shelves. I happen to personally know someone who found tainted products still for sale in a store in New York Was it due to oversight, apathy, or lack of enforcement? And that, too, has been a common theme. We learned throughout this crisis just how little power the FDA has to enforce – as all the recalls have been “voluntary.”
Many animal companions knew before the recall that the pet food industry did not have nearly enough quality control. We have heard the nightmarish information from people like Ann Martin (Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food) who through extensive research revealed the horrific practices of some in the pet food industry that made our hair stand on end. Fortunately, the tide has been turning in recent years with the proliferation of companies that have set a higher standard, who are using organic, or at least higher quality products and ensuring that their products are truly as nutritional as they say.
Zach’s health problems are not over. His kidneys have been greatly compromised. For the past seven months, I have had to give him fluids regularly. Fortunately, the frequency is less than it used to be -- now we are down to once every three days. This may certainly be something we have to do for the rest of his life. It’s been hard on him, hard on me, and, not to mention, the veterinary bills have been extensive. Suffice it to say, I would do whatever it takes to make him well – and I am not a wealthy woman. I can certainly identify with so many people out there who have been personally affected by this crisis – whose cat or dog may have become ill or died and have been thrust into their own emotional and financial crisis.
Unfortunately, I believe this story is far from over. I fear there will be more aftershocks and more heartbreak for people who have and love animals in this country. I hope I’m wrong.
Pictured above: Zach