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I previously posted about the steps some of our government officials are taking in getting to the bottom of the pet food contamination disaster. Here is the press release from Sen. Dick Durbin’s office regarding the impending U.S. Senate oversight hearing:

DURBIN ANNOUNCES SENATE HEARING ON PET FOOD CONTAMINATION
Thursday, April 5, 2007
[CHICAGO, IL] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today announced the U.S. Senate will hold an oversight hearing on the ongoing investigation and the regulatory mechanisms that govern the pet food industry as the widespread recall of contaminated pet food continues.

“Many cats, dogs and other pets, considered members of the family are now suffering as a result of a deeply flawed pet food inspection system,” said Durbin. “The FDA’s response to this situation has been tragically slow. Pet owners deserve answers. The uncertainty about what is safe to feed their pets has gone on far too long. I want to learn exactly when the FDA knew about the contamination, who is inspecting pet food manufacturing plants, and whether we need to force the FDA to update their regulations to protect our pets. Most importantly, I want to hear how the FDA is going to work to resolve the current crisis and ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Durbin, a member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, is working with Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), the Chairman of the Subcommittee, to schedule the hearing shortly after the Senate returns from recess next week. Hearing witnesses will include FDA officials who will be questioned on the timeline of the investigation, the source of the contamination, and the agency’s regulatory and inspection responsibilities. The hearing will also include outside experts who will discuss the current state of the pet food industry, as well as regulatory or resource shortfalls that led to the widespread recall of tainted pet food.

While the FDA is reporting 15 animal deaths due to poisoning, the agency has received more than 10,000 complaints over the last several weeks. Reports of the actual number of animal deaths due to tainted food vary widely from other sources.

Durbin is urging the FDA to take action in three specific areas:

  • Delay in reporting. Menu Foods, Inc. first noticed a potential problem on February 20, 2007 but did not contact FDA until March 15, 2007. In the meantime, other companies were selling tainted product and the supplier wasn’t aware that it had provided wheat gluten contaminated with melamine. Durbin wants companies that delay reporting to the FDA and endanger human and animal health to face penalties.
  • Lack of inspections. The Emporia, Kansas Menu Foods facility where many of these products were made had never been inspected by the FDA. The agency has been relying on the states to conduct inspections, but the FDA has jurisdiction over all pet food manufacturing facilities and the ultimate responsibility to ensure facilities comply with FDA standards. Where there should be federal regulation, there is instead a patchwork of state inspection systems and voluntary guidance. Durbin wants to require the FDA to work with the states to establish a standardized set of regulations and inspection requirements.
  • Incomplete data and reporting from the FDA. Blogs and nonprofit websites have filled a gap and become the most efficient way to share information on contaminations. Durbin wants to direct the FDA to create a similar information sharing system that would allow state veterinarians, pet owners and others to alert the FDA of possible contaminations.

    TimelineOn March 16, 2007 Menu Foods, Inc. initiated a voluntary recall of 60 million cans and pouches of wet pet food. The recall involves 42 varieties of cat food and 53 varieties of dog food made at its Emporia, Kansas facility between December 3, 2006 and March 6, 2007.

    The FDA, which has jurisdiction over the regulation and inspection of pet food processing facilities, announced the recall on March 17, 2007. According to FDA, it was first notified of the contamination on March 15, 2007.

    In addition to the Menu Foods recall of 95 different labels of pet food, the recall was expanded between March 16 and March 31, 2007 to at least 4 more makers of pet food, all well-respected premium brand companies – Nestle Purina, maker of Alpo; Hill’s Pet Nutrition, maker of Prescription Diet; P&G Pet Care, maker of Iams and Eukanuba; and Del Monte.

    On March 26, 2007, in response to reports that Menu Foods and FDA were underreporting the number of animal illnesses (acute kidney failure) and deaths attributed to the contamination, Durbin and Congresswoman DeLauro sent a letter to Andrew von Eschenbach, Commissioner of the FDA, requesting that within 15 days the FDA provide information on the number of pet food manufacturing inspections and violations, a detailed timeline of the situation, an analysis of FDA’s oversight of pet food manufacturing facilities and a report of actions taken since the recent pet food recall. A response is due by April 10, 2007.

    On March 30, the FDA discovered that the source of the contamination was a melamine-contaminated batch of wheat gluten imported from China by a Chinese company called Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd, which is based in Wangdien, China. The same day, in response to the Xuzhou discovery, FDA issued guidelines blocking imports of wheat gluten from that company and stepped up inspections of all Chinese wheat gluten shipments.

    On April 3, Nevada-based ChemNutra announced that it was the firm that had imported the contaminated wheat gluten and that it then provided the gluten to pet food companies. According to ChemNutra, all the wheat gluten went to pet food companies and should not be in the human food supply. ChemNutra initiated a nationwide recall of the contaminated wheat gluten product on April 2, 2007.

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    While it may seem to be slow on the draw, there IS action being taken by some in higher places to get answers to this horrible pet food recall mess.

    Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter directly to Paul Henderson, President and CEO of Menu Foods, with his concerns and some very pointed, and detailed questions. We’ll see what comes of that. Probably just more of the blah-blah-blah Mr. Henderson doles out at those press conferences of his. Here are links to the opening statements from the press conferences of March 23rd and the March 30th, offered to us by the good (cough-cough) folks over at Menu Foods on their pet food recall web site.

    On March 26th, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) co-authored a letter to the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. von Eschenbach, with a 15 day deadline for answers to questions they posed. I appreciate the questions submitted and will be quite interested in seeing what answers Dr. von Eschenbach will have for us all. The more I am learning about the FDA, the more I can’t help but think of FEMA and the like. Our government at work for us, eh? Not.

    There other animal welfare groups such as HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and online source Pet Connection, who are also demanding answers and doing their best to keep this in the news as a top story until changes are made and answers are given.

    Of course our biggest ally in demanding answers and change is YOU! You can keep this story in the headlines by contacting your local media, national news sources, your legislators, the FDA, and your State Veterinarian offices. It goes without saying that there are countless news stories out there worthy of attention such as the never ending horrible quagmire in the Middle East, global warming, our education system…I could go on forever. But our pets have no one to speak for them and look out for their best interests, so please continue to remain vigilant with this pet food recall and demand the changes and answers that we, and our pets, deserve.

    UPDATE 4/6/07: Click here for a post regarding Senator Durbin’s press release about the U.S. Senate’s oversight hearing on the pet food mess.

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    POSTS for 3/17-8/22:

    • 3/18/07: Science Diet has added some of their foods to the voluntary recall list. Pets HAVE died and others are suffering severe health problems, so PLEASE check this new list AND the ones I listed above. Thank you! Science Diet Recall (On 3/30/07 Science Diet recalled feline m/d)
    • 3/18/07 10:15PM PST: The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is even posting information which shows just how far-reaching this has become. They even have a web page with information on how to register adverse reactions/consumer complaints. I appreciate that so many of you are reading as much as you can about this and staying on top of the situation. What wonderful owners your pets have! 🙂 And PLEASE continue to spread the information to AS MANY folks as you can, and have THEM stay on top of it as well. I’ll definitely continue to add information as I find out about it.
    • 3/19/07 11:10 AM PST: Looks like Menu Foods has another press release, which interestingly enough says it’s not for US newswire services, whatever THAT really means. It’s in PDF format and can be accessed from their main recall page.
    • 3/20/07 11:20 AM PST: It is disconcerting to hear that in February, Menu Foods apparently was notified of the problems with pets eating certain Menu Foods produced food, did their own testing in which approximately 17% of the tested pets died, yet it wasn’t until March 16th that the recall was announced?!?! I am obviously no expert on how these things work, but it sure seems to me that the motto of “better safe than sorry” should have been in place LONG BEFORE March 16th! Menu Foods recall notice states:

    “We take these complaints very seriously and, while we are still looking for a specific cause, we are acting to err on the side of caution” said Paul K. Henderson, President and CEO, Menu Foods. “We will do whatever is necessary to ensure that our products maintain the very highest quality standards.”

    Seems to me that “acting to err on the side of caution” would have meant alerting consumers about the problems MUCH sooner than they did. According to news reports, Menu Foods was alerted by pet owners about deaths and renal failure on February 20th, Menu Foods began their own tests February 27th where between 15%-20% of the pets they tested died, yet the recall was not announced until March 16th, THREE WEEKS AFTER they were first alerted of the deaths and health issues?!?!

    I certainly hope to hear SOME type of logical explanation SOON from Menu Foods, but until then all I can assume is that $$$$ (especially since in their initial press release on 3/16/07 they repeatedly mention how much the recall could cost their company) and probable financial loss is what had Menu Foods dragging their feet, while their consumers were unknowingly feeding their beloved pets food which could possibly kill them, if not leave them with painful health issues and enormous veterinary bills which many owners cannot truly afford. I worked in the veterinary field for nearly 7 years and know the high cost of health care for pets, along with having had expensive medical situations with my own pets. But that is what pet owners do, they care for their pets as if they were members of their family, which they are (just four-legged instead of two-legged), and will put themselves into debt just to make sure their pets get the best care possible. Unfortunately there will be pets whose health care costs related to the issues from the tainted food will be too high for some owners to absorb, and they will then have to make the heartbreaking choice to have their beloved pet euthanized.

    Come on Menu Foods, let’s get cracking on finding some solutions here. I think everyone understands that “accidents” and “mistakes” do happen in life, which might possibly explain how the food became tainted in the first place, but the part I’m having the hardest time understanding right now is why the recall took so long to be announced to consumers. What do you have to say Menu Foods? You have countless pet owners looking to you for answers.

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