Hall of Shame: Chinese Chicken Jerky Dog Treats and the FDA

January 31, 2013

For years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has been investigating a possible contamination in chicken jerky dog treats. The investigation began in 2007 (on the heels of the massive recall of melamine-tainted pet food in the U.S. and Canada) after the FDA received complaints about a potential link between chicken jerky dog treats from China and the death of about 90 dogs.

The FDA began investigating but took little action for years.  The agency issued uninformative warnings three times stating that no contaminant had been identified.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA CVM), from 2010 through Dec. 17, 2012, a reported 2,674 dogs were sickened and 501 dogs died as a result of eating the tainted chicken jerky treats from China. That is 501 unnecessary deaths.

Protests sprouted up all over the internet calling for a formal recall of these chicken jerky dog treats. More than four years after issuing its first warning, and even though there was clearly something toxic in these products, the most the FDA would say in November of 2011 was “Chicken jerky products should not be substituted for a balanced diet and are intended to be fed occasionally in small quantities.”

Dogs affected by the tainted jerky typically exhibited Fanconi-like symptoms. It is an uncommon disease characterized by elevated levels of glucose in urine but not in blood. What it means for the dog is a decreased appetite; decreased activity; vomiting; diarrhea, sometimes with blood; increased water consumption and/or increased urination, and sometimes, sadly, death. It’s a horrible end and one completely unnecessary if caused by feeding a dog treats not required as part of a regular diet.

From 2007 to 2011, the FDA received 674 complaints about the safety of chicken jerky treats. Last year alone, it received 620 complaints. Did these increased complaints lead to a recall?  Did the FDA finally step up and do its job?

It did not.

In early January of this year, the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets announced it found trace amounts of antibiotic residue in chicken jerky samples. And on the heels of long-awaited scientific proof, pet food companies finally were forced to respond. On Jan. 9, Cadet, Hartz, Nestle Purina and Milo’s Kitchen all announced voluntarily recalls of their chicken jerky products. However, all were still quick to point out that “the trace amounts of antibiotic residue (in the parts-per-billion range) do not pose a health or pet safety risk.” And other chicken jerky brands from China still sit on the shelves.

That it took six years for these voluntarily recalls to happen is unacceptable. The pet food companies and the FDA should have responded quicker, especially because of the previous problems caused by pet food products made with ingredients from China. The number of families suffering the unnecessary loss of their pets is unacceptably high. Losing a pet is never easy. But losing a pet because you fed it a treat is unthinkable to a pet owner, who is doing so out of love, not to kill or injure their pet. For failing to promptly investigate and act on consumer complaints, both the pet food companies and the FDA have earned a place in the Wexler Wallace Hall of Shame.


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