"We are all part of the same food chain," stated Stephen Sundlof, DVM, PhD, director of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)'s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, at the Reuters Food Summit in Chicago, Illinois, USA, earlier this year. He was speaking about the recent US peanut butter contamination crisis and how consumer mistrust could impact the entire food industry, not just companies with affected products.
But he could have been referring to the petfood industry's relationship to human food. After all, several dozen brands of treats and other petfood products were involved in the peanut butter recalls. This demonstrates the fact that petfood manufacturers use many of the same sources and practices that human processors do.
Fixing a hodgepodge
Other contamination crises, such as the 2007 melamine-related petfood recalls, have made many US consumers question the nation's food safety. This so-called system is a hodgepodge of agencies-12 in all-and regulations that risks gaps in crucial areas of oversight.
Compared with the food safety of countries around the world, the US stands ahead of some and lags behind others. Considering that the US accounts for such a large portion of the global food supply, shouldn't its food safety system rank near the top?
At least the new US government thinks the system needs significant improvement. In mid-March, President Barack Obama, while naming his choices to head the FDA (Margaret Hamburg, MD, as commissioner and Joshua Sharfstein, MD, as principal deputy commissioner), made even more important announcements: increased funding for the FDA and the creation of a Food Safety Working Group to investigate how to best coordinate oversight.
For the 21st century
"This Working Group will bring together Cabinet secretaries and senior officials to advise me on how we can upgrade our food safety laws for the 21st century, foster coordination throughout government and ensure that we are not just designing laws that will keep the American people safe, but enforcing them," Obama said. "And we are also strengthening our food safety system and modernizing our labs with a billion dollar investment, a portion of which will go toward significantly increasing the number of food inspectors, helping ensure that the FDA has the staff and support they need to protect the food we eat."
According to NYTimes.com, (March 14), President Obama's moves received support from US legislators who have been calling for improvements, especially since the 2007 petfood recalls brought to light-not only for Congress but also for US consumers-the level of dysfunction in the food safety system and underfunding for the FDA.
Good for petfood, too
In its latest report forecasting the US pet market through 2010, Packaged Facts draws a distinct line between pet owners' concern about the safety of the products they feed their pets and increasing sales for natural and organic petfoods. "In the minds of most of the pet owners who purchase them, natural and organic products have always been associated with enhanced pet health and wellness, but the devastating recalls of spring 2007 appear to have cemented this association," the report says.
Even during a recession, pet owners seem willing to buy these often higher-priced products. A February online poll by Packaged Facts showed that 39% of US dog owners and 40% of cat owners had purchased natural or organic petfood in the previous three months.
Whatever types of petfood consumers buy, they expect them to be safe. And when it comes to safety, what's good for humans can only help pets, too.
Debbie Phillips-Donaldson is editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry and Petfood Forum.
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