IS THE FDA CONDUCTING A RAW PET FOOD WITCH HUNT?
Photo by Roger H. Goun
Let me start by saying that I am not a conspiracy theorist. However, the initiative now being enacted by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) targeting only raw pet foods seems to be beyond biased.
In June the FDA announced that it would be focusing its attention on raw pet foods. The decision was made based on the results of a two-year FDA study. In that study 196 samples of raw pet foods were tested with 15 positive for salmonella and 32 positives for listeria. In the same study the agency tested 250 dry pet foods and found only one sample to be positive for Salmonella.
But that is not the whole story. Since 2010 there have been 27 recalls of raw foods (one for parsley) and 78 recalls of dry food (kibble).
To put things into perspective, the FDA found that 81% of raw ground turkey for human food (supermarkets, restaurants), showed contamination from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According to the Retail Meat Annual report by The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), antibiotic-resistant bacteria were found in 69% of pork chops, 55% of ground beef and 39% of chicken. None of these products were recalled.
Keep in mind that most pet food recalls are because the risk the food poses to humans. It is rare that a healthy cat or dog becomes ill from salmonella or listeria. Between 1947 and 2000 there were only six reported cases of dogs becoming sick from listeria.
Humans can avoid the risk of becoming ill from bacteria by simply washing their hands, pet food bowls, utensils and any surfaces that come into contact with raw meat with hot, soapy water.
GETTING BACK TO THE RAW FOOD INSPECTIONS
The owner of a raw pet food company who was attending a veterinary conference in June told a veterinarian friend of mine that the FDA arrived at their plant in HAZMAT suits to conduct the inspection. Is this common practice? I really don't know. But doesn't it sound odd - a bit excessive? By the way, the company passed the inspection.
You are most likely aware of the recent stop sale order of Stella and Chewy's foods due to listeria found by the Maryland Department of Agriculture. This was immediately followed by a proactive voluntary recall of 20 products by the company. There are no reports of pets or people becoming ill from these products.
What you may not know is that the Stella and Chewy's samples that tested positive for listeria were not found in their plant; they were found in a pet food retail store where the Maryland Department of Agriculture was conducting inspections of raw food in conjunction with the FDA.
That is not to discount the listeria finding. However, many factors can compromise the integrity of food after it leaves the plant, including improper shipping and storage practices. A majority of pet foods (not frozen raw) are shipped without climate control and stored at distribution centers without air conditioning. Have you ever opened a bag of kibble and discovered bugs? This happens regularly.
One of the concerns in having the FDA taking samples from foods in pet food stores is that retail stores do not provide a sterile environment. In a recent article , Susan Thixton of Truth About Pet Food shared that multiple unrelated sources reported that the FDA inspectors collecting samples at stores have:
Reused sample containers (that had held previous pet food samples)
Not worn sterile gloves when taking samples
Punctured packaging to obtain samples (instead of properly opening the product)
Sample obtaining tool not sterilized between uses (tool used to remove a pet food sample from each pet food was not washed or sterilized in between each sample taken)
Even competitors found it odd that a food product from Stella and Chewy's tested positive for listeria. The company utilizes a process called High Pressure Processing (HPP), which is used for the purpose of eliminating pathogens. HPP is controversial within the raw pet food community with purists pooh-poohing the practice. However, it may prove to be the saving grace for many of the raw pet food companies during this focused effort by the FDA.
I am quite curious to see how the Stella & Chewy's story unfolds. It one of several brands of raw food my cats enjoy (and yes, I continue to feed it to them).
In the last week the FDA targeted another raw pet food company, Vital Essentials. Two small, limited beef tripe products tested positive for listeria. The company has issued a voluntary recall of the products. A Rio Rancho, New Mexico woman is claiming that her dog became ill in May after consuming one of the tripe products. A veterinarian diagnosed the dog with listeria. Vital Essentials has agreed to pay the dog's veterinary bills while the cause of the dog's illness is being reviewed.
I am in no way suggesting that raw pet food plants should be exempt from inspection. I do feel that all forms of pet food - canned, dry, freeze-dried and frozen raw, and refrigerated cooked food - should be inspected and tested.
IS THIS POLITICAL?
Raw pet food is the fastest growing segment of the pet food industry. It is estimated that it now makes up 9 percent of pet food purchased in the USA. According to Pet Product news (via information collected by marketing research firm GfK USA), sales of frozen and refrigerated pet foods increased by 17% from January to August 2014 and sales of freeze-dried pet food grew by 43.8% in the same period. Quick note - since 2012 sales of freeze-dried pet food has grown by 74%.
The big pet food companies, Nestle-Purina, Mars Pet Care, Big Heart Pet Brands, and Hills do not produce raw pet foods. Raw pet food advocates, including me, feel that it is not a coincidence that the FDA is not scrutinizing these companies.
Keep in mind that as I mentioned earlier, there were three times as many recalls of kibble as raw food in the last five years. Shouldn't that be of concern?
As for my fur babies - they will continue to enjoy frozen and freeze-dried raw foods.