Why Is Pet Food Recalled So Often? What Pet Owners Should Know!

What the heck is going on? It comes down to money! Pet food is profitable, so lots of companies with little or no experience (or knowledge) of pet nutrition have pounced on the bandwagon. The food these companies sell usually doesn't meet the American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards.

On it's own website AAFCO provides this disclaimer:

"AAFCO has no statutory authority to regulate pet products.

Rather, enforcement of violations is the purview of the state feed control officials, so companies must comply with each state's requirements. While most states follow AAFCO model regulations, exact language and interpretation may differ between states.

While these documents offer guidance that are helpful in the vast majority of states, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure compliance with individual state requirements."

What happens is this:

Many pet foods are co-packed, or have several different manufacturers. In these cases the label is done by the end-of-the-line company that's selling the food, Pet Authority reports.

If the pet food bag has "distributed by" instead of "manufactured by," or "manufactured for," it means that the food was made somewhere else but the company is placing its label on the bag and selling it as their own.
Many of us think that most pet food companies have veterinarian nutritionists on staff, practice tight quality control, or do nutritional research. Sometimes that's true, but it's often not the case.

Many pet food companies practice co-packing with several manufacturers, and this means that when contamination occurs, multiple pet foods are involved, the Pet Authority reports.

Here's an example:

The Diamond Pet Foods plant caused one of the largest food recall in history, with 30,000 tons of food contaminated with salmonella. 

Diamond Pet Food distributes food under the following labels: 
  • Chicken Soup for the Pet Lovers Soul,
  • Canidae
  • Kirkland
  • Solid Gold Wolf
  • Taste of the Wild
  • Premium Edge and several other brands. 
The mother of all pet food recalls occurred in 2007 when reports of dogs and cats unexpectedly suffering kidney failure began flooding in, PetMD reports. 

A series of investigations by the FDA eventually found that suppliers in China were intentionally adding melamine and cyanuric acid to wheat gluten and rice protein concentrates that were being used to produce pet foods.

This was made in CHINA
and manufactured by Nestle Purina
Pet Care Company
The suppliers did this to make the wheat gluten and rice protein appear as if the concentrations of protein were high than they actually were.

The combination of melamine and cyanuric acid in dog and cat foods led to crystals forming in our pet's kidneys, leading to kidney damage, kidney failure, and death in many cases.

This tragedy turned into the largest pet food recall in history, spanning foods and treats made by twelve manufacturers, and resulting a criminal case against the U.S. importing company CHEMNutra, Inc, PetMD reports. 

The owners eventually pled guilty to distributing adulterated food and selling food that was misbranded. 

Scores of owners filed lawsuits due to their pets' illnesses and deaths, and the lawsuits were consolidated into a single class-action case that was settled for $24 million dollars. About half of the settlement went to pet owners. The rest went to the more than 80 lawyers involved in the case, and to cover expenses.

Some 25,601 claims were submitted, with 20,229 approved. In over half of the cases (13,242), the pets died!

In 9,001 cases, pets became ill but survived. In the rest of the claims, animals had been brought in for testing but fortunately didn't become ill, or owners didn't indicate their pets' condition.

PetMD notes that these numbers only represent a tiny fraction of the pets who were affected by the tainted foods.

Buyer beware. In this day and age, what can we learn from this? The Latin phrase "caveat emptor" (Let the buyer beware) applies here.

Here's a few suggestions:

The American Veterinary Medical Association publishes a list that is frequently updated, and it can't hurt to check it out every week.

Stop Foodborne Illness recommends the following top tips for safe handling of pet food - you can take steps to minimize risk and keep your pet healthy:
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after touching pet food.
  • Clean pet food and water dishes after each feeding.
  • Scoop food out of bags/containers with a clean scoop.
  • Throw away spoiled or old pet food in a tied plastic bag. 
  • If your pet’s food is being recalled, discard all of it — from your pet’s food bowls along with the rest of the supply.
  • Diarrhea (including blood or mucus).
  • Vomiting.
  • Lethargy.
  • Dehydration.
Keep in mind that some pets can be carriers, meaning they show no symptoms.

They may instead shed the pathogen in their stools or harbor it in their fur or saliva. This means YOU can become sick as well. Wash your hands after petting your furbabies, serving pet food, or handling pet waste.

In this day and age, it almost seems like keeping your pet healthy is a full time job. Considering all the love our pets give us and the ways in which they enrich our lives, it's a job well worth it.
List of Recent FDA Advisories 
on Recalled Pet Food, Treats and Products