Generally, major national news outlets only cover large pet food recalls, especially those involving illnesses or deaths. Smaller recalls tend to be picked up only by local media, pet industry news outlets, and food safety or pet focused blogs. So why did CNN, USA Today and dozens of other outlets cover the recent recall of a single lot of Go Raw two-pound frozen bags of Quest Beef Cat Food?

In the Go Raw recall, no pet owners reported any deaths or even illnesses. Go Raw didn’t find Salmonella in their own tests of recalled lot N128. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture reported the contaminated sample. As far as recalls go, it was rather mundane. Yet, numerous news sources covered the recall. CNN, USAToday, the International Business Times and at least 60 other news media outlets posted the related FDA recall press release or articles based on it.

However, other similar incidents haven’t received nearly the same level of coverage. For example, in September, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautioned consumers not to feed Aunt Jeni’s Home Made frozen raw dog food to their pets because the agency found Salmonella and/or Listeria monocytogenes in samples of the product. The same thing happened with FDA’s warning about recalled Texas Tripe Inc. raw pet food in August. The news outlets that covered the warnings were pet focused or based near the pet food brands’ headquarters. These recalls were similar to Go Raw’s in that they were raw pet foods with local retail sales and wider distribution through e-commerce.

National media attention to pet food recalls

So, why would CNN, USAToday and other major outlets only cover some recalls? The FDA sends an alert about every single recall to your email, if you sign up for it. Most of them are for human products, from bacteria-contaminated tomatoes to male enhancement products laced with erectile dysfunction medicine. In other words, any media outlet could post those recall press releases from the FDA with a minimum of effort.

My guess as to why every recall doesn’t get the national attention that Go Raw did comes down to human cognition. As important as recalls are to me as a trade journalist and to you as a pet food industry professional, to most people recalls don’t get much attention until they become national panics, like the turkey scare last Thanksgiving. Journalist have to cover what resonates with their readers, so generally only major recalls get much attention beyond the affected groups. When a major outlet does cover a recall though, it draws the attention of many smaller news sources. A recall that would have been ignored may then appear in dozens of headlines, as in the Go Raw recall.

Perhaps a CNN editor feeds Go Raw to their pet and that’s why it showed up on the media behemoth’s radar, or maybe it was a slow news day. Regardless, pet food recalls and warning haven’t become regular features on national media outlets’ websites. However, as more people assign greater importance to their pets’ health and well-being, mainstream media may pay more attention to recalls and other issues in the pet food industry.

Tips to minimize damage during pet food recalls