The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year, 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick of food borne diseases. How many pets get sick each year of food borne diseases? No one knows, because no one really monitors pet food related illness.
The AVMA provides the following statistics…(2012 statistics)
There are almost 70 million dogs in the U.S. (in homes, not including shelter animals).
There are 74 million cats in the U.S. (in homes, not including shelter animals).
If we apply the same 1 in 6 estimate of human illness linked to a food to our pets/pet food…
- an estimated 11,600,000 dogs a year in the U.S. get sick from a pet food related illness;
- an estimated 12,300,000 cats a year in the U.S. get sick from a pet food related illness.
With humans, the most common food borne illness cause is bacteria. However the CDC admits “not all agents of foodborne disease are known”. For our pets, the potential causes of pet food related disease is much more complicated. Such as…
- Pet food is governed under feed law, not food law. Feed is allowed by all regulatory authorities (FDA and each State Department of Agriculture) to include waste such as diseased animal tissues, chemical damaged or pesticide contaminated foods, and expired/spoiled human foods. Feed ingredients are not required to be transported or held in sanitary conditions and feed ingredients such as meats are not required to be transported or warehoused under refrigeration. One can just imagine the many potential illnesses that could be caused from these types of ingredients.
- Commercial pet food is a complete diet – including all vitamin and mineral supplements required for the animal. Many pet foods include supplements sourced from risky country of origins such as China. A Chinese sourced supplement could be toxic and the cause of many unknown illnesses (example melamine laced vegetable proteins causing the 2007 massive pet food recall).
- Another concern with supplements is proper mixing/distribution through the entire batch of pet food. Pet food is manufactured in massive batches – 3,000 to 10,000 pound batches. Consider when you make a cake from a mix. You add the dry mix into a bowl, add in the oil and the eggs, and blend with a mixer. Inevitably – no matter how well you blend – there are still lumps in the batter. With pet food, those ‘lumps’ could be the powdered vitamin/mineral pre-mix – becoming toxic doses of vitamins or minerals that end up in one or two kibbles or one tiny section of canned pet food.
There are many more pet food related risks of disease to consider, but just using the main difference between human food and pet food – feed quality ingredients, lack of mandatory clean transportation and warehousing and lack of mandatory refrigeration during transportation and warehousing – we can conservatively estimate that pet food is the cause of ten times the food related illnesses in our pets as human food causes for humans.
Pet food related illnesses could be anything from ear infections, skin conditions, gastrointestinal issues, internal organ disease, to cancer. This is by no means an all inclusive list, just a few examples.
But the worst part(s) – is that No One is tracking pet food related illnesses in our pets. And our veterinarians are provided with no education of how to diagnose a pet food related illness. Most veterinarians don’t even know how to or where to report a pet food related illness in the rare occasion they link the illness to a pet food. (By the way, report to the FDA first – you can do that here: http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ReportaProblem/ucm182403.htm. And your State Department of Agriculture second – you can find your state feed official here: http://www.aafco.org/Regulatory)
There is no one connecting the dots from a sick pet with liver or kidney disease to the potential of a mycotoxin contaminated pet food. There is no one connecting the dots to skin conditions or gastrointestinal disease to a particular pet food – and documenting the possibilities for public reference. Certainly not every pet illness is directly related to a pet food. But without proper training of our veterinarians to diagnose a potential food related illness – and without someone tracking these illness reports, how will we ever know which foods or feeds or particular ingredients are causing illness and which are promoting good health?
Some of this tracking of pet illnesses related to a pet food or pet food ingredient is being done silently behind the scenes. The example would be Dr. Pete VanVranken’s recent investigation into the pet food ingredient copper sulfate. His own dog died from what he believes is linked directly to the pet food ingredient copper sulfate. He spoke with Michigan State University who stated almost half of the dogs they were seeing had too much copper in their livers. Dr. VanVranken also spoke with Dr. Sharon Center of Cornell University who stated veterinarians “need to watch out for this”.
How can we ‘watch out for this’ if only a select few are told to watch?
The FDA was required to establish an improved monitoring system of pet food illness outbreaks after the 2007 recall. This was established in 2010 and is known as PETNet – Pet Event Tracking Network. While this is a partial fix, the significant missing link are veterinarians who are treating sick animals. The PETNet system is only available to FDA and State Department of Agriculture representatives. Both having little time or financial backing (from respective government) to devote much effort towards protecting our pets and neither being on the front lines of treating pets or diagnosing a pet food related sick pet.
In human food, illness linked to food is monitored with the goal of preventing future illnesses. How can pet food ever improve if no one is trained to diagnose a food related illness and in turn an adequate system of monitoring pet food related illness is not established?
Our pet food consumer association sent the following letter to FDA, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the Holistic Veterinary Medical Association…
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) monitors human illness linked to food. The CDC estimates that each year, 1 in 6 Americans get sick from a food borne related illness. Applying these same statistics to U.S. pets, we can estimate 24 million cats and dogs get sick each year relating to a pet food. Considering the often poor quality feed grade ingredients allowed into pet food, Association for Truth in Pet Food (ATPF) estimates a significantly higher illness rate directly linked to pet food.
While FDA has established a monitoring system of reported pet food adverse events (PETNet), there remains significant missing links in this pet food safety chain.
One – FDA should actively encourage the involvement of practicing veterinarians in the PETNet system. It is understood that veterinarians have the ability to report a pet illness, however they are not allowed to scan the PETNet database to learn of existing illness reports.
Two – Veterinarians are not provided with education of how to diagnose a pet food related illness (as human physicians are provided for food related illness diagnosis). Veterinarians treat the illness, but are not provided with the tools to connect the dots to the cause of the illness. Further, many veterinarians are unfamiliar with how to report a suspect pet food/pet feed adverse event to proper authorities. ATPF estimates that less than 10% of practicing veterinarians know to report a suspect pet food/sick pet believed to be related to a pet food to FDA and/or to State Department of Agriculture (even if a link to a pet food was made).
ATPF asks FDA to open up the PETNet system to veterinarians. We ask FDA to require pet food manufacturers to provide FDA with copies of each pet illness reported to the company (included in the PETNet database).
We ask the AVMA and the AHVMA to work with FDA establishing on-going educational programs to properly train veterinarians to diagnose a pet food related illness, and education how to properly report all suspect pet food related illnesses.
Finally we ask all parties – FDA, AVMA and AHVMA to establish a working group – together with consumer representatives (ATPF volunteers to be one of the consumer representatives) – to develop an effective pet food safety monitoring system. Consumer participation is vital to the success of this effort.
In human food, illness linked to food is monitored with the goal of preventing future illnesses and as a means to make human food safer. ATPF has the same goal in mind with the development and implementation of a modern pet food safety system – preventing future pet food related illnesses and to make pet food safer. We hope all parties realize that consumers want their regulatory authorities and veterinarians to do everything they can to make pet food safe.
Pet Food Consumer Advocate
Association for Truth in Pet Food
If your veterinarian is a member of AVMA or AHVMA please encourage them to contact their respective veterinary association – asking that a proper (and effective) pet food monitoring system be established – and includes consumer representation. Fingers crossed they listen.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
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