Risk assessment: Raw pet food or the Government regulating it?
If all the raw pet food recalls have you a little worried, when you learn of the action behind many of the recalls you’ll be even more worried. Fabricated lab results, intentional contamination, refusing to abide by law…and this is the regulatory authorities.
The following information is a combination of interviews (phone and email) with multiple regulatory authorities, multiple pet food manufacturers and multiple independent pet food stores. No brand names or specific states or individuals can be named for the protection of the companies and individuals involved.
FDA and State Department of Agriculture randomly tests pet foods for contaminants such as Salmonella. If it seems like raw pet food has been tested much more than other styles of pet foods – that assumption is 100% correct. Some State Department of Agriculture authorities have openly bragged they are only testing raw pet food for pathogenic bacteria. They have communicated a sense of pride of taking action against the ‘evil’ raw pet foods. (‘Evil’ is my word, not theirs – ‘evil’ was the sentiment they communicated numerous times.)
For any type of regulatory testing of pet food, law requires two significant things. One – every step of the process from collection of the sample to receipt at the laboratory is required to be documented. This is known as ‘chain of custody’. The regulatory authority is required to provide the pet food company with full disclosure to chain of custody documentation should an issue with testing be found. Chain of custody documentation with a raw pet food is significantly important as the product has to remain frozen for accurate results.
Two – the sample taken has to be large enough for the regulatory laboratory to perform their tests, and to provide the pet food company with a ‘split sample’. With raw pet food this means multiple packages of the same lot must be purchased (from a pet food store). Should a pet food test positive (as example) for Salmonella – the regulatory authority is required to provide the pet food company a split sample of the exact lot the agency tested. This split sample is required to be provided to allow the pet food manufacturer with a means to validate or refute the testing results of the regulatory agency.
Though procedure can slightly vary from state to state, standard procedure for when FDA or State Department of Agriculture laboratory testing finds (example) Salmonella in a pet food is…
- Notify the pet food company initial/basic testing was positive for Salmonella. This is known as a ‘presumptive positive’. Initial tests are followed by more detailed testing to confirm the species type of Salmonella and to provide the manufacturer with final positive results.
- Regulatory authorities provide the pet food company with chain of custody documentation and split sample for opportunity to validate or refute the results. The more timely a split sample is provided to the manufacturer, the more timely a recall can occur (if manufacturer testing confirms the result). No regulatory action other than notification to the company should be taken until the split sample is provided and confirmation testing is performed.
- If initial testing was performed by State Department of Agriculture, the FDA is notified of the presumptive positive. Typically FDA contacts the pet food company as follow up.
- Often upon notification of a presumptive positive, a manufacturing plant inspection might be initiated by either FDA or State Department of Agriculture. During inspection, multiple other testing samples can be obtained of pet food product, raw material, and swab sampling of equipment and manufacturing environment.
- If split sample testing is confirmed by the pet food manufacturer, steps to recall the pet food are coordinated between the regulatory agency and the pet food manufacturer. If the split sample testing is not confirmed by the manufacturer (results do not validate agency findings), a deliberation process begins between the agency and the manufacturer.
Again – standard procedure (procedure that other styles of pet food are held to) is that no regulatory action (such as a mandatory recall or stop sale order) is taken until the pet food manufacturer is provided with their right to view/confirm all steps of the testing process performed by regulatory authorities and confirm split sample results.
The system explained above might seem like a time consuming process – especially if you are a pet owner whose pet was sick or died and are desperate for accountability. But to make sure a pet food is properly held accountable for a bad batch OR to protect a company from regulatory bullying – all of the above steps need to be followed. Legally, every ‘i’ needs to be dotted, every ‘t’ crossed.
But this has not happened with raw pet food.
With MANY of the raw pet food recalls over the past several years, the above steps have not been followed. Not even close. With many – if not most – of the raw pet food recalls over the past several years…
- On multiple occasions, FDA has delayed providing the raw pet food manufacturer with their required split sample for weeks. During those weeks of delay, FDA is consistently pressuring the pet food manufacturer to initiate a recall. Many of the raw pet food manufacturers were NEVER provided their required split sample. They succumbed to regulatory pressure and recalled the pet food without opportunity to confirm or refute a ‘positive’ lab result.
- Same thing with State Department of Agriculture. Multiple State Department of Agriculture agencies have delayed and delayed providing the raw pet food manufacturer with their required split sample while continuing to pressure the pet food company to recall. Again, numerous raw pet food companies succumbed to the regulatory pressure and recalled the pet food without opportunity of split sample testing.
- FDA and multiple State Department of Agriculture agencies have delayed and delayed providing a raw pet food manufacturer with chain of custody documentation. In some cases, pressuring a manufacturer to recall with NEVER providing the required documentation. In some cases, when documentation was ultimately provided – the laboratory in receipt of the sample noted the raw pet food was received thawed.
- On multiple occasions, FDA and State Department of Agriculture have pressured a raw pet food company to recall based solely on initial basic testing (presumptive positive). Presumptive positive testing is not legal foundation for a recall, they can easily be a false positive (which is why follow up testing is always required). However, both FDA and numerous State Department of Agriculture agencies have pressured raw pet food companies into a recall based solely on presumptive positive results.
- Raw pet food samples are most often purchased from independent pet food stores. There are numerous instances of a State Department of Agriculture taking the pet food from a independent pet food store without paying for the product. When questioned about payment for the pet food, the regulatory authority told store owners ‘get payment from the pet food company’.
- On multiple occasions, a State Department of Agriculture representative entered an independent pet food store looking for a specific brand and lot number of raw pet food – stating to the pet store employee or store owner ‘this food is adulterated and will be recalled’. When questioned about the adulteration, the State Department of Agriculture representative admitted ‘they’ (the agency) had not tested the pet food yet – but insisted (prior to testing) the raw pet food was adulterated. (Personal opinion – this is evidence that outside parties such as Big Pet Feed is testing raw pet food and providing results directly to regulatory authorities. Perhaps even fabricating results.)
- And one store owner who questioned a State Department of Agriculture representative in their store – which was not well received by the regulatory authority – within weeks received an audit notice from the IRS. (Coincidence?)
- Though not as solid as evidenced above, there are also numerous reports of manufacturing facility cross contamination issues during a pet food inspection. Regulatory authorities entering protected areas of a plant refusing to wear protective clothing and cross contaminating the facility (prior to their swab sampling of the manufacturing environment).
With certainty, some of the raw pet food recalls we’ve seen over the past several years are legitimate recalls. But with equal certainty, some (if not most) of the raw pet food recalls we’ve seen over the past several years were NOT legitimate recalls. Some if not most of the raw pet food recalls were the result of regulatory bullying; regulatory working in partnership with Big Pet Feed to stop the growth of raw pet food industry.
If you are a raw pet food consumer, what can you do?
Ideally, we need raw pet food manufacturers to initiate a lawsuit against regulatory authorities for their violations in inspection/testing/recall procedures. But if you could stand in their shoes just for a moment, you’d see that is a very scary thing to consider. Regulatory authorities wield great power – and they throw that power around quite a bit. They have the ability to destroy a business in the blink of an eye. The same holds true for independent pet food stores. State regulatory authorities have the power to destroy a struggling independent pet food store in the next blink of an eye.
But…we consumers can take some action on behalf of raw pet food manufacturers and independent pet food stores by asking questions of our regulatory authorities – without fear of reprisal.
- Email or call your State Department of Agriculture (locate your representative here: https://www.aafco.org/Regulatory) and ask for the records of all testing done on pet food over the past two years for pathogenic bacteria. You’ll probably be shocked at what you receive; a significant majority will show testing was performed mainly on raw pet food. Share your state’s results online with other pet food consumers.
- If the testing documentation provided shows a clear bias against raw pet food, file a complaint against your State Department of Agriculture with your state’s attorney general.
One more thing…
This post is not intended to defend all or any raw pet food company in particular. If a pet food – any style of pet food – is contaminated with any toxic substance (toxic to the pet or human handling the product), regulatory action should be taken and the pet food should be promptly removed from the marketplace. And this post is not intended to condemn any particular regulatory authority. But what we are seeing – what we have certain evidence of – is a regulatory bias that is a collective effort to destroy the fastest growing segment of the pet food industry (raw pet food). What we are seeing is all other toxic pet food issues ignored (including direct violations of federal law) while the attack on one segment of pet food is pushed forward directly by regulatory authorities.
What all pet food consumers deserve is consistent, non-biased regulatory enforcement of all pet food. Law must be abided by – with all styles of pet food. Consumers can be the constant squeaky wheel to demand all law is enforced in all pet food.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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