by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Pet food

Jun 2 2009

What’s up with Nutro pet foods?

I wish I could answer all the questions that come in under Feedback but the one from Sophie about the recent recall of Nutro pet foods is on my mind, not least because it is so mysterious.

Some history: As I discuss in Pet Food Politics, Nutro brands were caught up in the melamine recalls in 2007.  The company initially recalled several lines of dog and cat foods.  When owners reported animals sick from eating brands that had not been recalled, Nutro recalled others.  In the wake of that mess, the company was sold to Mars Petcare (yes, the maker of M&Ms) later that year.

The present fuss: Since then, more than 800 pet owners have complained to a website, ConsumerAffairs.com, that their pets got sick or died after eating Nutro products.  Consumer Affairs’ Lisa Wade McCormick followed up by contacting the FDA and filing a Freedom of Information Action (FOIA) to see what the agency had on consumer complaints about Nutro.  Someone at the FDA told her they were denying her FOIA request because Nutro was under investigation.  But then the FDA said it was not investigating Nutro.  But then, people who contacted Consumer Affairs said the FDA had talked to them about their sick pets. So was the FDA investigating Nutro or not?

While Consumer Affairs was trying to figure this out, Nutro announced its “voluntary” recall of dry cat foods, found to contain “incorrect levels of zinc and potassium…resulting from a production error by a US-based premix supplier.” Translation: The FDA does not have recall authority; all recalls are “voluntary.”   Zinc and potassium are essential minerals.  Vitamins and minerals in pet foods – or breakfast cereals for that matter – are added as  pre-manufactured mixes.

The Nutro press release says the company has had not gotten any consumer complaints about the recalled products but that cat owners should watch out for loss of appetite, refusal of food, weight loss, vomiting, or diarrhea.  These are precisely the symptoms that have been reported to Consumer Affairs over the last couple of years and that might be expected from zinc poisoning.

So how much zinc was in the pet food? The company press release did not give the amount of zinc found in its products.  Neither did the FDA.  The FDA announcement merely said that the premixes contained too much zinc and too little potassium.  Lisa McCormick, however, reports that levels of zinc in Nutro dog (not cat) foods were once found to contain 260 parts per million (ppm).  The AAFCO standard for zinc in cat foods is 75 ppm dry weight.  For dog food it is 150 ppm.

Would a level of 260 ppm be dangerous?  Nobody really knows.  According to the most recent National Research Council report, not enough information is available to establish a safe upper limit, but 260 ppm seems like it ought to be within tolerable limits.  But maybe it’s not?  For humans, the recommended intake level is about 10 mg/day with an upper limit of 40 mg/day.

So what is going on here?  In this, as in anything having to do with pets, I defer to Christie Keith, who writes about pets for petconnection.com and for the San Francisco Chronicle. In her recent column on the Nutro business, she lays out the issues as only she can do:

Call me crazy.  Call me a dreamer.  Call me a radical progressive liberal socialist.  Or instead, call the real FDA a failure as a watchdog on the American food supply – both human and animal – that it was created to protect…this was and is a story about the safety of Nutro foods…But I think there’s a much bigger story here.  The FDA works for us.  We pay its bills.  And it’s supposed to ensure the safety of the American food and drug supply for both people and animals…[The result is that] Nutro is left to mop up after a PR mess made all over the Internet, pet owners have no idea what to believe or what pet food to buy, and the FDA has nothing more to say.  We lose.  Our pets lose.  Even the pet food companies lose.  And that’s the story.

Let’s hope that the facts emerge soon.  In the meantime, a few conclusions seem clear.

For pet owners: Don’t buy recalled Nutro products for your pets (the list is in the press releases from Nutro and the FDA).  Insist that Nutro and every other pet food company give you information about what’s in the foods, how they know the amounts are correct, and what their test results show.

For pet food companies: Know your suppliers and test every every ingredient.  If you want your customers to trust your products, release the test results on your websites. 

For the FDA: Take pet foods seriously. I keep insisting that we only have one food supply, and it’s the same for animals, pets, and people.  If the melamine recalls taught us anything, it is that if something is wrong with pet foods, people foods will be in trouble too (recall: melamine in Chinese infant formulas).  And how about being more transparent about what you are doing?  That too might help instill trust.

For the government: How about funding some research on the dietary needs of dogs and cats.  The more we know about their nutrient needs, the more we will know about our own.

For everyone: Insist that the companies that make foods for people and pets tell you what is in their products, where the ingredients come from, whether they are testing, and what the results of those tests might be.

This is why pet food politics matter (and why I went to the trouble of writing a book about the melamine recalls).

May 16 2009

Weekend fun: dog food vs. pâté (and the winner is?)

I’ll bet that a study published by the American Association of Wine Economists will be a top candidate for this year’s IgNobel Prize (the prize given for “research that makes you laugh and then think”).  Investigators somehow convinced a bunch of volunteers to undergo a blind taste test of liver pâtés and dog food.  Participants knew that one of the samples was dog food, but not which one.  They gave the dog food the lowest marks on taste, but only 17% identified it as dog food.  Everyone else thought it was just bad pâté.  This must say something about the average American palate, alas.  To address that question, Stephen Colbert  did his own taste trial on camera.  Too salty, he says.  Indeed.

Apr 13 2009

Busy weekend: the Obama’s First Puppy and Fixing the FDA

In case you were wondering about my thoughts on what the Obamas should be feeding their new First Puppy, I did an interview with Obama Foodorama on that very topic: “The Obamas get a new puppy and policy issues get unleashed.”

And for my latest column in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Full plate for Obama’s new FDA administrator,” I deal with the question of what the new FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, needs to do to fix the agency’s problems. She will need all the support we can give her.

Feb 9 2009

Pet food recall settlement: at last?

The courts have finally approved the settlement agreement for the class action lawsuit against pet food makers selling products contaminated with melamine.  This means that the payouts will begin sometime this year, maybe.   Legal wheels grind slowly, it seems (or maybe this isn’t slow?).

Jan 26 2009

Peanut butter and pet foods

One more thing about the peanut butter recalls; they affect pet foods.  I can’t help saying it, but I did say that pet foods matter (and thanks to OrangeCloud for reminding me).  One of the points of Pet Food Politics was to demonstrate that the food supplies for pets, farm animals, and people are one and the same and cannot be separated.  If a safety problem affects pet foods, you can be sure that the same kind of problem will affect people food.  Examples: melamine in Chinese infant formula, and now peanut butter.

Lots of pet foods, especially treats, contain peanut butter and guess where that peanut butter comes from?  It comes from the same plant in Georgia that sends peanut butter everywhere else. Here are the recalled pet foods, so far:

Avanza Supermarket
Econofoods (Excluding Wisconsin stores in Sturgeon Bay, Clintonville, Marquette, Holton and Iron Mou
Family Fresh Market
Family Thrift Center
Food Bonanza
Grreat Choice
Pick’n Save (Ohio stores in Van Wert and Ironton only)
Prairie Market
SunMart Foods
Wholesale Food Outlet

Recalled pet food ingredients: Peanut Corporation of America or Parnell’s Pride

Jan 11 2009

Pet food settlement: indefinitely delayed

Two unnamed parties have filed appeals to the $24 million settlement of the Menu Food pet food recall claims for compensation for pet illnesses and deaths.  These appeals will delay payments to pet owners who filed claims, perhaps, according to the judge, by months or even years.  Details about who is filing the appeals and why are not available, but one source says they have to do with labeling and fairness issues.  Woe.

And more woe.  Mars continues to expand its recalls of pet foods made at its now closed Allentown, PA plant.

Update January 15: here’s one of the objecting lawyers.  He thinks owners of pets affected by melamine-contaminated pet food deserve more than the $24 million settlement.

Jan 8 2009

Pet Connection Interview: Unedited!

My interview with Christie Keith about Pet Food Politics has just been posted on the Pet Connection blog site.  Pet Connection is the pet care and everything else website that played such an important role in tracking the events of the 2007 pet food recalls.  Christie Keith writes regularly for Pet Connection but I first came across her work as the exceptionally thoughtful pet columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.  This is a first for me: the interview is a verbatim transcript of a long telephone conversation.  The conversation was a lot of fun, but also instructive; it changed my thinking about some issues regarding pet food labeling.  Enjoy!

Nov 28 2008

At last! Final settlement of pet food class action

People whose pets got sick or died as a result of melamine adulteration of pet foods in 2007 are entitled to compensation.  The U.S. courts approved the $24 million settlement on November 17. Now, the Canadian courts also have approved the settlement. The $24 million is in addition to the $8 million already paid out.   Pet owners who have not yet filed claims can still do so by writing to: In re Pet Food Products Liability Litigation, Claims Administrator, c/o Heffler, Radetich & Saitta LLP, P.O. Box 890, Philadelphia, PA 19105-0890.  Tel: 1-800-392-7785.  Website: www.petfoodsettlement.com.

Happy Thanksgiving holiday!


		
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