Pentobarbital may be wider pet food ingredient problem

The resurgence of recalls and dog illnesses related to pentobarbital contamination of pet foods surprised one F.D.A. official.

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The resurgence of recalls and dog illnesses related to pentobarbital contamination of pet foods startled Steven Solomon, D.V.M., now in his second year as director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.). The cycle of pentobarbital-related recalls needs to be halted with preventive controls, he said, but noted new evidence suggests that the problem may be more pervasive than originally thought.

“I was surprised earlier this year when pentobarbital came back as an issue, and came back in full force,” he said during the Feed and Pet Food Joint Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. “Pentobarbital simply should not be found in pet food. The American public, especially pet owners, demand this of us as regulators. They deserve to know the comforting fact that their animal's food does not contain a substance that is intentionally used to euthanize animals.”

On March 2, the F.D.A. upgraded J.M. Smucker’s withdrawal of pet food products to a recall affecting Kibbles ‘N Bits, Ol' Roy and Skippy brands. The FDA based this decision on a test confirming the presence of pentobarbital in the tallow ingredient used in the affected products.

Pentobarbital as widespread pet food ingredient supply problem

The problem of pentobarbital entering the companion animal food stream may be more widespread than initially presumed, he said, although the F.D.A. investigation has not concluded.

“Most of us probably think that pentobarbital contamination comes from a few bad actors,” he said. “New evidence is showing it may be a much more pervasive problem in the animal food supply than originally thought.”

Although Solomon said he believes that rendered products may be a source of pentobarbital in pet food ingredients, he also recognized that rendered products are valuable to the pet food industry and reduce strains on the environment.

F.D.A. acts on pentobarbital in pet food

“There's a 14 to 15 year time frame between the last pentobarbital recalls and the start of the most recent recalls,” he said. “This kind of tells a story that some of these issues reoccur, and we need to be diligent as to what hazards can reoccur.”

F.D.A. officials are currently working to address the problem of pentobarbital in pet food, Solomon said. The current draft of “Hazard Analysis and Risk Preventive Controls for Food for Animals” guidance document (GFI #245) now contains advice on dealing with the issue of pentobarbital.

The framework of the Food Safety Modernization Act (F.S.M.A.) allows F.D.A. to establish means to monitor for pentobarbital in the pet food supply chain, he said. Old policies need to be updated to incorporate F.S.M.A. hazard analysis and preventive controls frameworks.

Federal officials are willing to work with pet food makers to implement preventive control for animal feed regulations through education, guidance meetings and discussions to help control pentobarbital in pet food, he said.

"We're well aware that some of you have already taken steps to address this hazard and we appreciate that,” Solomon said.

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