By Dr. Becker
I have a minor update for you in the long-running, tragic, frustrating, infuriating situation with toxic chicken jerky treats from China.
According to NBC News, "Federal Food and Drug Administration officials unexpectedly posted summaries this week of lab results of nearly 300 jerky treat samples collected and tested in the U.S. between April 2007 and June 2012."
The FDA released the data1 a day after it refused to release to NBCNews.com the results of February inspections of Chinese plants that make the chicken jerky treats. "The agency said releasing the information would violate rules protecting trade secrets and confidential commercial information and that it would interfere with enforcement proceedings. That data remains confidential," according to NBC.
The results do little more than confirm the FDA hasn't identified what is making so many dogs sick, while the number of pet illnesses and deaths linked to the treats has now climbed to over 1,800.
"You can't find what you don't look for."
Pet owners and advocates are unimpressed with the FDA's efforts to find the source of the illness caused by the treats.
"When I scanned down through the list of testing, they all seemed to be centered around the same handful of tests," said Susan Thixton of TruthaboutPetFood.com. She thinks the FDA must broaden its view to include other potential toxins. "You can't find what you don't look for," she said.
According to Thixton, in order to find the contaminant in the massive 2007 pet food recall, scientists had to work backwards. There was no precedent for testing for melamine. Investigators analyzed the kidney tissue of pets killed by tainted food. They found crystals in the kidney tissue that ultimately led to the discovery of melamine contamination.
Instead of testing and re-testing for the same small group of known toxins, why isn't the FDA taking a similar approach to investigating chicken jerky treats? It's now five long years of no progress finding the contaminant in the treats, while beloved family pets continue to get ill and die.
The only real finding in the FDA's released test results was some undeclared propylene glycol in a dozen samples. Propylene glycol keeps food soft and chewy. It's also antifreeze that at certain exposure levels can be toxic to pets.
Phyllis Entis of efoodalert.net points out that there aren't any studies available on the effect of propylene glycol when mixed with other pet food ingredients. Entis also asks this highly relevant question, given the extreme processing pet food and treats undergo:
"… has anyone at FDA thought to examine the chemical reactions involving propylene glycol that may take place during the manufacture of pet treats? Dow Chemical lists several reactions that could occur under favorable conditions of heat and oxidation. Has anyone investigated the effects of irradiation on propylene glycol? Some manufacturers irradiate their pet treats to ensure microbiological safety. There are, no doubt, several possible avenues of research here."
Is the FDA Even Up to the Task?
In 2009, the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an audit report2 on the FDA's handling of the 2007 pet food recall. Here is an excerpt from the Executive Summary:
FDA has developed procedures for monitoring recalls and assessing a firm's recall effectiveness. However, FDA did not always follow its procedures in overseeing three of the five recalls that we reviewed. Furthermore, FDA's procedures were not always adequate for monitoring large recalls. FDA's lack of authority, coupled with its sometimes lax adherence to its recall guidance and internal procedures and the inadequacy of some of those procedures, limited FDA's ability to ensure that contaminated pet food was promptly removed from retailers' shelves.
Both Thixton and Entis believe the FDA's lack of resources dedicated to investigating the jerky treat problem and its lack of a systematic approach to the investigation are behind the lack of progress to date.
I'm Repeating Myself, but …
I can't in good conscience end this article without my usual warning to pet owners:
Please DO NOT BUY OR FEED chicken jerky treats, chicken tenders, chicken strips or chicken treats made in China to your pet – and this goes for any treat you aren't 100 percent sure originated entirely in this country. Buying pet food made in the U.S. won't remove all risk of winding up with a tainted product, but it will certainly improve your chances of keeping your pet safe.