This is a heartbreaking story of how quickly one’s life can be turned upside down. And a story of how once you learn the lesson the hard way, you learn no one is there to help you. It is a vicious circle – animal death, no investigation, no accountability.
First – for anyone reading this that might judge this consumer, I’m asking you please don’t. Most of us at one point in time couldn’t even imagine a pet food could kill. Most all of us at one point trusted a brand we learned later we shouldn’t have trusted. You might not agree with the food she purchased, you might not agree with her actions. I hope you focus on the bigger problem – ‘the system’. Animals die, no authority investigates and no one is held accountable. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
This story is composed from emails and several phone conversations with Melissa. I was given permission to share her story on TruthaboutPetFood.com.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a pet owner in rural Texas that shared she had purchased two 50# bags of Pedigree from Walmart (purchased January 2014). Within 48 hours, 2 of her dogs were dead. Next day, 3 more dogs died. Following day 2 more dogs died. The next day – day 5 – five of her pigs were dead. All of these animals consumed the Pedigree dog food.
Pedigree Adult Dog Food Best By: 12/26/2014 Lot number: 352E2TX0216112
Melissa and her family raise cattle dogs and hunting dogs. They also raise pigs. They are in my opinion, a typical pet food consumer family. They are not familiar with pet food regulations, they are not skilled in pet food ingredient language. They – as typical pet food consumers do – trusted that any pet food would be safe to feed their animals.
They have since learned a lesson they will never forget.
My Dad used to call it 20/20 hind sight. Where one has perfect vision of what they should have seen – after the fact. Never having experienced that a dog food could kill, this family didn’t connect the animal deaths to the food until it was too late.
On the morning of day 6 after purchasing the Pedigree dog food from Walmart, Melissa called her veterinarian. He told her “it was too late” – to test any animal to learn if the food was the cause of death of these animals. She was told a necropsy would need to be performed immediately after the animals died.
So she sent the dog food to Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab, Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, Oklahoma State University for testing. When the food tested clean of aflatoxins, the lab suggested testing the food for rancid fat. Quoting the test results of the dog food…
The tests will be for % Fat and Free Fatty Acids (FFA), which are a measure of
% Free Fatty Acids = 9.7
% Fat = 7.57
The percent fat should be checked with the amount listed on the bag of dog food. A high amount of fat and FFAs can cause problems. We generally like to see <3.0% FFA. Rancid fat can kill normal microflora of the gut and cause vomiting and diarrhea. It is possible for this dog food to have caused some of the clinical signs observed in your animals.
The Guaranteed Analysis on the dog food label stated 10% Fat minimum. This dog food tested to contain 7.57% fat (actual). The food was mislabeled.
The percentage of rancid fat found in this dog food was well over the percentage the Oklahoma Veterinary School lab suggested as safe. Safe: less than 3%. Actual test results: 9.7% rancid fat.
Melissa learned from the Oklahoma lab she could report this incident to FDA. She called her FDA Complaint Coordinator and reported the dog food and her animal deaths (March 2014). She shared the complete story, where the food was purchased, how many animals died, she informed FDA of lab results on the dog food and that she still has dog food and the original packaging in her possession.
She has not heard back from FDA since.
The animal deaths were also reported to Pedigree/Mars Petcare. At Mars Petcare request, Melissa sent a sample of the food to Mars for testing (early March 2014). She was told it would take two to three weeks for results. She was assured the Mars Petcare quality control team will investigate. Three months later she was told Mars Petcare had completed their investigation and have determined that the Oklahoma Veterinary School lab results were “incomplete”. Based on their findings: nothing in the Oklahoma Vet School lab results stated the dog food was defective. Claim is denied.
When Melissa contacted me I suggested she contact Office of the Texas State Chemist (Texas Department of Agriculture does not do investigations, this office does). I provided her with the contact information for Roger Hoestenbach – Assistant Director – whom I am familiar with from attending AAFCO meetings.
Melissa told me Mr. Hoestenbach stated ‘a little rancid fat helps with palatability of dog food’ and ‘I’ve raised dogs all my life and I’ve never known rancid fat to kill a dog’. Texas did not ask to see a copy of the lab results of the dog food, and told this pet owner there was nothing he/Texas could do to help.
As follow up, I called the Office of the Texas State Chemist. Mr. Hoestenbach denied he told the consumer ‘I’ve raised dogs all my life and I’ve never known rancid fat to kill a dog’ but he confidently repeated to me ‘a little rancid fat helps with palatability of dog food’. We talked at length about this situation and the problems consumers face; I do believe Mr. Hoestenbach understands and to an extent agrees that the regulatory system doesn’t always protect the consumer. But – he stated to me…
“I did all I could to help this pet owner. This food is no longer on store shelves, this complaint was back in January.”
I disagreed and I shared my disagreement with Mr. Hoestenbach. Did you contact Walmart and ask if any of this lot of dog food remained on store shelves? No – he hadn’t. Did you contact Mars Petcare and ask for documentation of where the remaining 10,000 pounds (give or take a few thousand pounds) of this batch of dog food was shipped to? No – he hadn’t. If the fat used in this dog food was rancid, do you think it was only used in this one batch of food? Don’t you think a batch or two before and after this batch would have been made with the same load of rancid fat? Did you check to see if batches of dog food before or after this batch of food are on store shelves anywhere – possibly killing more dogs right now? No – he hadn’t.
He became a bit frustrated with me (and yes, I can understand why). He stated he does not have the authority to recall this dog food. I responded, I’m not asking you to recall the food. I’m asking you to investigate. I am asking you to do something to help this pet food consumer. It was repeated to me “I did all I could.”
Note added after original post: Mr. Hoestenbach’s office at Office of the Texas State Chemist is a little over one hour away from the plant that manufactured this dog food. Office of the Texas State Chemist – College Station, Texas. Mars Petcare plant where this food was manufactured – Temple, Texas. Doesn’t the death of 12 animals make a one hour drive to inspect the plant worth the effort? One hour drive. There is no excuse.
At the same time I contacted Mr. Hoestenbach of Office of the Texas State Chemist, I also contacted FDA (Washington) and asked if FDA has regulation regarding rancid fat in dog food. I asked if FDA allows a dog food to contain rancid fat. I was told…
FDA recommends pet owners follow the instructions on the pet food label, including using products within its shelf life (the date stamped on the packaging) to avoid spoilage issues like rancid fat. FDA also has advice on its website for the safe storage of dry pet food to avoid spoilage like rancid fat. “If you store dry pet food in a container other than its original bag, be sure to wash the empty container with soap and water before adding food from a new bag. The residual fat that settles on the bottom of the container can become rancid beyond its shelf life. This spoiled fat may contaminate fresh food added to the container, causing vomiting or diarrhea when fed to your pet.” http://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/newsevents/fdaveterinariannewsletter/ucm130726.htm
If a consumer has concerns about the safety of a pet food product, we encourage them to visit the following webpage to report a pet food complaint: http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ReportaProblem/ucm182403.htm.
There is no requirement that pet foods have pre-market approval by FDA. The Act does require that pet foods, like human foods, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled.
This non-response was not what I asked. I responded to FDA that a pet owner had purchased a dog food directly from Walmart, the food was stored in the original container, the food is highly suspect of killing pets within 48 hours of feeding, it was tested to contain high levels of rancid fat, and the pet food consumer DID report to FDA. FDA did not investigate or even view the lab results of this food from Oklahoma State University Vet School. I repeated my question “Does FDA allow fats in pet food to be rancid? Can you tell me yes or no. If yes, is there an ‘action level’ that would cause FDA to recall or investigate a pet food.”
I’m still waiting for FDA response.
I don’t know if the Pedigree dog food is positively linked to the death of Melissa’s 12 animals. But I do know that FDA and Texas did not investigate. Without investigation, no one can say with certainty the pet food did or did not kill Melissa’s animals. Texas told me they checked the PetNET system to see if other complaints had been filed on this food and found nothing (but if no one investigates…how could there be record of any investigations into this food?) The ONLY testing done on this pet food – paid for by the consumer – confirmed high levels of rancid fat. The lab stated “It is possible for this dog food to have caused some of the clinical signs observed in your animals.” Repeat: “It is possible…” But no one – FDA, Office of the Texas State Chemist – properly investigated the food or the possibility the dog food caused the death of 12 animals.
With human food, physicians receive on-going education on how to diagnose a food related illness. Physicians know to report suspect illnesses to local Health Departments and FDA. The Centers for Disease Control tracks human illness and helps to alert the public of possible sources of contaminated food. We have none of this with pet food.
If your pet gets sick or dies that you believe is related to a food or treat…who is going to investigate? Will you have every document the FDA or your State needs? Will your regional FDA Compliant Coordinator or State Department of Agriculture even bother? Will you – through your grief – know to save the animal’s body, document the symptoms no matter how rapidly they appear? Will your veterinarian know? Will you or your veterinarian connect the dots from the symptoms to the pet food/treat in time?
It’s a vicious circle. Pet food is manufactured with contaminated ingredients – error. Pets die. Consumers ask for help. Authorities say they need proof – necropsy. No investigation. No one educates the consumer or veterinarians how to provide the proof – how to make the diagnosis. More pets die. No one is held accountable. And we circle back again. Pet food is manufactured with contaminated ingredients – error. Pets die….
We have to stop the vicious circle. I will be asking FDA for a meeting on this subject. A consumer and veterinarian education campaign needs to be developed and it needs to be thoroughly marketed to the public by federal and state authorities.
My thanks to Melissa for sharing her story with all of us. I am so sorry for your loss. I am so sorry that FDA and Texas authorities let you down.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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