Nov 15, 2012
By Jessica Taylor
Last month, I attended the Pet Food Institue and Feed Industry Joint Conference in St. Louis, Missouri where much of the focus was on FSMA, how to handle plant safety inspections and the effect the 2012 drought would have on ingredient prices, supply and demand. But my ears perked up when Dr. Dan McChesney, director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance at the FDA CVM, made mention of this year's simmering (and about to boil over) topic with consumers: the mysterious ingredient sickening dogs and cats across the US in chicken jerky from China. According to Dr. McChesney, the FDA CVM has received well over 1,000 complaints of pets sickened due to jerky treats in 2012.
"On average, about 40 complaints regarding chicken jerky are filed every week when there is little to no press coverage occuring," he said. "The number of reports per week raises drastically whenever the media turns it's attention to the issue, however." Are pet parents merely being pushed into panic mode by a bombardment of misinformed bloggers and journalists? Or has the chicken jerky problem reached a critical point with consumers justifiably concerned about their animal's health? Some cases are not substantiated, while other pets may have been affected but their owners never complained or associated a pet's problem with the treats, Dr. McChesney noted. In any case, he concedes there's clearly an apparent issue with chicken jerky treats.
The story began in June 2011 when several Canadian veterinarians reported dogs starting to display symptoms of kidney disease associated with the treats made in China, according to Steve Dale of Steve Dale's Pet World. (Some blogs claim the issue arising as early as 2007 or 2008, but have little to no evidence to back-up these claims.) The US government isn't legally allowed to stop companies from distributing products, or suggesting a recall without solid scientific justification which (at this point) there is little to be had.
Pet parents, feeling desperate and frustrated no doubt, have taken action by voicing their concerns via social media and other online tactics. Terry Safranek, for example, who is confident that Waggin' Train "Wholesome" Chicken Jerky caused her dog Sampson's death, has started a Change.org petition with over 70,000 signatures calling on Nestle Purina PetCare, which make the treats, to recall the product.
In the past month (just half of November), the phrase "chicken jerky" has been tweeted 297 times and a total of nearly 6,000 times in 2012. Also of note, the word "Purina" is very often associated with these tweets - Purina was hashtagged 72 times in the past 15 days and mentioned 51 times in tweets like this one: "Buying manufactured foods and treats is like Russian Roulette. Feed fresh food (preferably organic)" tweeted by ChrisDay2012 on November 4, 2012. And these Tweeters are often linking from reliable sources: of this month's almost 300 chicken jerky-related tweets, 236 were linked directly to the FDA's website as the source. 839 Twitter users linked to Change.org's petition and 490 to a seperate petition with a similar agenda, at ThePetitionSite.org.
With a great deal of the Internet clambering for answers from our industry, very few our speaking up or offering solutions, which may leave pet parents with only one choice: product or even, brand boycott. One manufacturer addressing the issue head-on is Waggin' Train, who state on their website that to date, extensive chemical and microbial testing performed by the FDA has not uncovered a contaminant or cause of illness from any of their chicken jerky products. Perhaps more manufacturers of chicken jerky, whether American-made or not, should follow Waggin' Train's lead and at the very least do their best to calm the building consumer hysteria. At best, voluntary recalls and more efforts put into ingredient sourcing would end the issue entirely.
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