Maryland Department of Agriculture issued a “Stop Sale Order” on Stella & Chewy’s pet food recently. What is a stop sale order and why haven’t consumers heard of other stop sale orders of pet food? Lack of regulatory consistency, that’s why.
Consumers are not provided with much information to all the ins and outs of the pet food regulatory system. FDA and State Department of Agricultures representatives tends to go about their business regulating pet food without disclosing to the consumer what they are doing to protect our pets. Besides lack of transparency, another concern of regulatory oversight of pet food is consistency. Are authorities consistently enforcing pet food regulations; enforcing regulations consistently with all pet food manufacturers?
The perfect example of inconsistency is the recent ‘stop sale order’ press release issued by Maryland Department of Agriculture regarding Stella and Chewy’s pet food.
Before I go on, try a little experiment. Type in the search box on your computer “stop sale order pet food”. Your search will only find one particular stop sale order of pet food – the recent Stella and Chewy’s stop sale order issued by Maryland Department of Agriculture. You’ll find that stop sale order mentioned on hundreds of websites – but you won’t find any other stop sale order of any other pet food. One more search, this time try searching for your particular state – as example I searched “Florida Department of Agriculture stop sale order pet food”. Nothing. Search several state names. Search using the name of any pet food you know was recalled (example: Dogswell Nutrisca Pet Food stop sale order). I did, and I found no other stop sale orders for any other pet food.
What is a stop sale order? Stop sale orders can be issued by FDA and any State Department of Agriculture for a multitude of reasons. Stop sale orders are meant to ‘stop’ a product from being sold, but they are not always issued for serious reasons (such as bacteria found in a pet food). Stop sale orders are commonly issued by pet food regulatory authorities, though rarely made public.
Stop sale orders can be issued because a State Department of Agriculture representative doesn’t agree with words or graphics on a pet food/treat label. The company is ordered to stop selling the particular product until the ‘error’ on the label is corrected. It can be something as simple as font size on the label (I’m not kidding). Stop sale orders can be issued because a pet food/treat company has not paid their yearly fees to a particular State Department of Agriculture. In this case all products would fall under the ‘stop sale’ until the fees are paid.
And of course, stop sale orders can be issued if an adulterant – such as a dangerous bacteria – is found in a pet food. In this case, the specific goal of the stop sale is to stop other pet food consumers from purchasing the particular possible contaminated pet food until – typically – a full investigation is performed. Key words: ‘until a full investigation is performed.’
The important thing to remember is that stop sale orders are not recalls. Stop sales can be/are issued for multiple reasons including a risk – but they are not a recall. And – to my knowledge – in ALL other cases except the stop sale for Stella and Chewy’s issued by Maryland Department of Agriculture – stop sale orders for pet food are never made public. It is my understanding that Stop Sale Orders are preventative measures used by regulatory authorities until a full investigation can be performed and a recall is issued.
Again using the example of Stella and Chewy’s pet food, the stop sale order press release was issued for just one product “freeze dried chicken patties dog food”. However, the recall notice issued three days later included multiple products (18). The reason for the differences in number of products was not non-disclosure by this pet food company. The reason for the different number of products listed in the stop sale order press release and the recall press release is that no investigation had been done to determine how many products were involved when Maryland Department of Agriculture released their stop sale order to the public.
And there is another difference between the stop sale order press release and the recall press release…the stop sale order press release issued by Maryland Department of Agriculture stated the listeria found in this pet food was found by FDA testing. However the recall press release (posted on the FDA website) states that Maryland Department of Agriculture found listeria in the pet food. Who did the testing on this pet food – FDA or Maryland Department of Agriculture? We don’t don’t for certain, no authority bothered to tell us.
Consistency issues aside for the moment, what is your opinion? Should consumers be notified – as in this case with Stella and Chewy’s – of all stop sale orders issued on a pet food? Even before an investigation takes place? What about trivial things such as the wrong font size used on a pet food label that results in a stop sale? Should those stop sale orders become public information too?
And what about testing methods used to find a risky bacteria in a pet food? Those that follow this website remembers the beating we took from numerous ‘pet food experts’ and veterinarians because our consumer funded testing project did not publish testing methods (makes me wonder where those vets and experts stand on recalled pet foods testing methods). The FDA would not provide comment on our pet food test results specifically because the published results did not provide testing methods. Should testing methods used to find a risky bacteria in the pet food be released to the public? Should FDA hold themselves to the same standards they held us to (providing testing methods)?
And then there is another issue to consider, when testing for bacteria in a pet food, results can show a “presumptive positive result”. The FDA states: “A presumptive positive result, which is a preliminary result that may or may not ultimately yield a confirmed positive result (i.e., it may yield a negative result).”
As example of a presumptive positive result, the OC Raw pet food recall notice stated “This recall is a result of a routine sampling program by the Nebraska Department of Food and Agriculture which revealed a presumptive positive to Salmonella.“ Consumers were never informed if the OC Raw pet food ultimately yielded a confirmed positive result or if the pet food ultimately yielded a negative result.
What’s your opinion? Should pet food consumers be informed of the final results after a presumptive positive result is found?
Back to the Stella and Chewy’s issue, why did Maryland Department of Agriculture issue a public press release announcing a stop sale order on Stella and Chewy’s pet food?
I spoke with Maryland Department of Agriculture – they were very nice and cooperative (believe me, not all State Department of Agriculture’s are nice and cooperative – I was very appreciative they were) – and they told me “generally speaking” this was standard procedure for the agency to issue a press release on a stop sale order, an effort to protect pets from consuming a risk pet food. However, I searched the Maryland Department of Agriculture website press releases – back through January of 2014. I did not find one other stop sale press release issued.
Where are all the other stop sale order press releases? As example, where is the press release for the stop sale order of Dogswell Nutrisca pet food which was found to contain Salmonella earlier this year? Maryland Department of Agriculture or any other State Department of Agriculture never made that stop sale order public. It was certainly issued, but we never heard about it.
When FDA and any State Department of Agriculture agency does not act consistently with pet food enforcement, suspicions arise. How can consumers honestly believe that authorities are working to protect our pets if one style of enforcement is used for one pet food and another is used for the next pet food? How can consumers honestly believe that authorities are actually concerned about pet food bacteria risk to pets, when all regulatory authorities allow rendered diseased animal tissues to be recycled into pet food with no disclosure to the consumer?
And one more inconsistency…
The FDA told me the agency’s current testing effort of raw pet food, “approximately 100 samples will be collected” (approximately 100 different raw pet food products will be tested).
As comparison, I asked the FDA how many samples of kibble pet foods were tested during the agency’s testing project of 2013. I was told in the 2013 project the FDA collected “300 samples of dry pet food and pet treats”.
On the surface, it sounds as if the FDA tested significantly more dry pet foods and treats than raw. But, one needs to consider the total amount of foods in each category (raw pet food category as compared to dry pet food and treats category). Raw pet food is a tiny category compared to the category of dry pet food and treats. With this current FDA testing effort of raw pet food, we can estimate that 100 samples of raw pet food equals an estimated 20% of the entire product line of raw pet foods (estimating there are 500 different brands and varieties of raw pet food in total). So FDA is testing an estimated 20% of all raw pet foods for bacteria right now. But…in 2013, with FDA testing effort of dry pet foods and treats, we can estimate that 300 samples equals about 1% of the entire product lines of dry pet foods and treats (estimating there are 3,000 different brands and varieties of dry pet foods and treats in total). So in 2013, the FDA tested only an estimated 1% of all dry pet foods and treats for bacteria.
An estimated 20% raw pet foods compared to an estimated 1% dry pet food and treats? Where is the regulatory consistency? How can consumers be adequately protected from dangerous bacteria when only an estimated 1% of the largest category of pet food sales (dry pet food and treats) is tested for dangerous bacteria and 20% of the smallest category of pet food sales is tested for dangerous bacteria? Doesn’t it make more sense to test 20% of all of them?
Pet food consumers deserve a consistent effort from their regulatory authorities. It should not matter to regulatory officials if the pet food is raw, kibble, canned, frozen, and on and on. Test them all – consistently. Provide consumers information – consistently. What we are getting is NOT a consistent effort and it does not truly protect all pet food consumers (and all pets).
Full disclosure regarding this post: I did not speak with anyone from Stella and Chewy’s for this post. I did not speak with a second cousin of Stella and Chewy’s, not a friend, not a sales rep. This post was not written to endorse or support this pet food. It is written to disclose to consumers the inconsistencies of pet food enforcement.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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