Thursday, March 22, 2007

Expect More Bad News From Pet Food Recall

Read the latest on the recall here.

March 22, 2007 - A pet food recall almost one week old continues to grow in scope. Menu Foods, the largest supplier of wet pet food in North America and private label manufacturer for widely used brands and retailers including Iams and Wal-Mart, still has not figured out the cause.

Official statements by the FDA refer to 16 pets dead, but the true number will most likely be much higher. Cat and dog owners who used the recalled brands are advised to stop immediately and go to the vet for tests. Menu Foods says it fielded 47,000 phone calls over the weekend, but most news reports tell of people unable to contact the company due to overloaded phone lines.

Sixty million packages of wet dog and cat food were recalled, representing 1% of all pet food sold in the United States. Menu Foods own tests showed an alarming mortality rate of 1 in 7, meaning 7 out of 50 animals that ate their food died. Using highly conservative numbers, Dillon Media LLC estimates a minimum number of total deaths that still has three zeros after it, as reported in The Economist. That said, it is important to remember that the vast majority of pets in America are safe.

Anecdotal evidence is beginning to back this up, with six lawsuits already reported in four US states and Canada, reports over 800 pet deaths in their self-reported database, and news organizations around the country have no problem finding affected people to interview. Many pet owners lost a cat or dog weeks ago, only realizing the cause after the recall was announced.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported this morning that the FDA is not asking vets to report suspected cases of recall-related deaths. This is a mistake. In the lightly regulated industry of pet food manufacturing, official documentation of the toll of this pet disaster will help craft the regulations and legislation that will inevitably follow. The last pet disaster - hurricane Katrina - resulted in new federal and state laws incorporating pets into disaster planning. [Update Mar 23: this FDA FAQ encourages vets to file cases]

This one exposes the manufacturer as a weak link in the chain. Few people probably knew just how many brands Menu Foods produced until they were forced to post the affected labels on their website. Private label pet food manufacturers tend not to name their customers. In fact, Doane Pet Care, who manufacturer's Wal-Mart's Ol' Roy dry dog food, does not even mention on its website that it is owned by Mars Inc. Doane is not involved in this recall.

Read the latest post on this topic here.

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