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Pet Food and China - More Cause for Concern?

February 01, 2012 | 42,619 views
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By Dr. Becker

Recently the Taipei City Government ordered four brands of pet food removed from store shelves due to false labeling.

The pet food companies involved were charged with violating China's Commodity Labeling Act.

Out of 140 pet foods tested by Taipei city officials, four were found to contain not even a trace of beef, despite label claims and misleading product names.

The four formulas:

  • Belicom's tuna and beef cat food
  • Dobi's beef, chicken and potato dog food
  • Ever Red's beef dog food
  • Maxwell's beef dog food

I guess we can assume tuna as an animal protein source was found in the Belicom product and chicken was found in the Dobi product.

But we can also assume the Ever Red and Maxwell products contained no animal protein source at all.

How would you like to discover the 'beef' dog food you've been feeding your pet perhaps several times a week for who knows how many weeks, months or even years, contains not even a trace of animal protein?

Even though these specific pet food brands aren't, to my knowledge, sold in the U.S., the apparent blatant false labeling by Chinese pet food manufacturers of four (four that we know of) different kinds of dog and cat food is extremely troubling.

You may be wondering why I'm concerned about lack of beef in four pet foods made and sold in China.

It's really not about those four pet foods – it's about the much bigger picture.

China is By Far the Largest Importer of Pet Food Ingredients to the U.S.

According to PetfoodIndustry.com, in just the month of February 2011, 70 percent of pet food ingredients imported to U.S. pet food manufacturers came from China.

In that month alone, almost $22 million dollars worth of pet food products were purchased from China. The second largest importer was Thailand, from whom we purchased a measly-by-comparison $7.6 million in pet-related goods.

If you're worried about feeding your pet a food with ingredients imported from China (or anywhere else), at first glance the solution seems simple. Just read the product label to insure it says 'Made in the USA' … right?

Not exactly.

U.S. country of origin labeling laws only require that products made in the U.S. be put together here. There's no requirement of pet food manufacturers to identify where the ingredients in their products come from.

From the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection's Complying with the Made in USA Standard document:

"What is the standard for a product to be called Made in USA without qualification?

For a product to be called Made in USA, or claimed to be of domestic origin without qualifications or limits on the claim, the product must be "all or virtually all" made in the U.S. The term "United States," as referred to in the Enforcement Policy Statement, includes the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories and possessions."

If you're thinking you'll just call the pet food company's 1-800 number and inquire about where their ingredients come from, you might not find out much.

According to TruthAboutPetFood.com:

"… it seems that no one in the pet food industry is very willing to talk much about Chinese imports. Try calling or emailing several pet food manufacturers and ask them the country of origin of all ingredients. Many will just happen to forget to mention vitamins and minerals are sourced from China."

Concerns with Pet Food Products from China Are Not New

Most pet owners remember the huge and frightening 2007 pet food recall for melamine contamination. The melamine was found, along with cyanuric acid, in wheat gluten that contained ingredients imported from China.

The combination of melamine and cyanuric acid is known to cause kidney failure in pets. Many dogs and cats became very sick, and some died after eating melamine-contaminated food.

Some of the biggest pet food names in the U.S., including Science Diet, Purina, Eukanuba, and Iams were involved in the 2007 recall of over 40 brands in total.

And of course just last month I reported an ongoing, mysterious contamination problem with chicken jerky dog treats imported from China. The chicken jerky problem dates back to 2007 and has made dogs sick not only in the U.S., but also in Canada and Australia.

Complaints about the chicken jerky treats dropped off in late 2009 and for most of 2010, but rose again in 2011. It’s mind-boggling, but what this means is after four years, with scientists in three countries investigating the problem, there is still no official answer as to exactly what’s in these chicken jerky products from China that is making dogs sick.

Meanwhile, among veterinarians and pet owners, theories abound. Suspicions include an ongoing problem with melamine contamination, irradiation of the ingredients in chicken jerky treats, and/or use of an as-yet unidentified chemical preservative.

Current Outlook Remains Bleak

It appears food safety concerns with China will continue indefinitely, and not just for pet food, but for all food.

According to The New York Times:

"Despite efforts to create a modern food-safety regimen, oversight remains utterly haphazard, in the hands of ill-trained, ill-equipped and outnumbered enforcers whose quick fixes are even more quickly undone.

"Most of them are working like headless chickens, having no clue what are the major food-borne diseases that need to be addressed or what are the major contaminants in the food process," said Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, a food safety expert with the World Health Organization's Beijing office."

According to the Times article and other sources, China has massive problems feeding its own human citizens safely. So it's reasonable to assume insuring the safety of pet food ingredients for export may not be at the top of their current To-Do list.

And now they can add another problem to the mix – falsely labeled pet food formulas that in some cases do not contain even a trace of animal protein. Meatless dog food masquerading as beef dog food means a certain percentage of family pets aren't getting the nutrition they need to thrive – or the nutrition their owners assume they are providing for their companion animals.

So four years after the melamine contamination disaster, it seems there are still significant challenges in determining what, exactly, is going into (or not going into) the pet food and pet food ingredients produced in China.

So How Can I Know the Food I'm Feeding My Pet is Safe?

If you buy rather than make food and treats for your dog or cat, my recommendation is to write or phone the manufacturers of the pet food brands you use and request a list of the countries they import ingredients from. And you want to know the origin of all ingredients, including vitamins and minerals (a large percentage of which are made in China).

If the pet food company can't or won't give you the information you request, I'd consider transitioning your pet to another, higher quality food, made by a manufacturer who is at least willing to answer your questions about where their ingredients are sourced, and address your concerns about imports from China.

If you discover some of the ingredients in your pet's current food come from China, you can contact other pet food companies that sell products in your price range and make the same inquiry about where their ingredients originate.

I will caution you that it can be extremely difficult to avoid virtually every food ingredient imported from China or another foreign country. It's up to each of us as consumers to do our best risk assessment of the food products we buy, whether they're 'Made in the USA' or elsewhere.

However, you can take every reasonable precaution to keep your pet safe by:

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