Bay Area pet owners are calling for the FDA to implement a law that they feel would protect consumers and pets from foods considered dangerous. The push comes one year after the Investigative Unit exposed nearly 2,000 complaints to the FDA about jerky. Vicky Nguyen reports.
After voluntary recalls of chicken jerky pet treats made in China, pet owners are calling for accountability from retailers in warning consumers of FDA recalled products and foods it deems potentially dangerous. The irony: it’s already law, it just hasn’t been put into place.
Part of the 2011 Food Modernization and Safety Act (FSMA) says that stores must post visible warning signs at their registers any time the Food and Drug Administration identifies a “reportable food”- for people or animals- that could “cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.”
But for one Morgan Hill dog owner whose dog died hours after eating a chicken jerky treat, having the law on the books isn’t enough. She and others want pet stores to post signs prominently after treats or food products are recalled or deemed dangerous by the FDA to warn customers.
“All you need is an 8 x 11 piece of paper that can be posted at cash register that says ‘this food has been recalled,’” Tony Corbo said. Corbo is a lobbyist for the food program at Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch.
“The fact that you had a couple of the companies recall the products indicates to us there is an issue here with the health effects of the products,” he told NBC Bay Area. “So what’s going to happen if there’s a human food involved here?”
The FDA has been receiving complaints about the potential dangers concerning chicken jerky dog treats from China since 2007. To date, the FDA has received at least 2,674 reports of illness involving 3,243 dogs, including 501 deaths.
“There is something that killed our dog," Morgan Hill dog owner, Rachael Chambers, told NBC Bay Area. “There’s something that killed all those other dogs.”
Chambers first talked to NBC Bay Area last summer, after her shepherd mix, Cali, died when her stomach ruptured, just hours after eating a Milo’s Kitchen chicken jerky treat. Chambers is one of thousands of pet owners who believe their pets were killed or sickened by tainted treats from China.
The cause of Cali’s death remains unknown, but Chambers continues petitioning the government to force the FDA to implement FSMA so that stores will warn customers when it comes to reportable foods.
There is no way to tell how many stores are complying or not. But one Bay Area chain, Pet Food Express, is already posting its own warnings. Owner Michael Levy told NBC Bay Area his 45 Bay Area stores have been hanging up signage for years when products are recalled.
“We really think of them [pets] as our children,” Levy said. “They can’t speak to us so we really have to look out for them.”
In January, Del Monte ordered a recall of its Milo’s Kitchen chicken jerky treats from store shelves. Nestle Purina also voluntarily recalled Waggin Train and Canyon Creek Ranch chicken jerky treats, both manufactured in China. The recalls came after inspectors with the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets found trace amounts of a type of antibiotics not approved for use in the U.S.
Kingdom Pets did not issue any voluntary recalls but posts the testing of its products on its website.
Last year, the Investigative Unit found Waggin Train, Milo's Kitchen, and Kingdom Pets were among the brands with the most complaints between 2007 and 2012.
However, the FDA says, when it comes to these voluntary recalls of chicken jerky treats, FSMA guidelines to post warning signs would not apply because they aren’t considered a reportable food at this time.
But even with items considered “reportable,” such as salmonella detected in dog food or listeria found in onions, the FDA has not figured out a way to tell stores to post a warning. So the law has not been implemented.
There have been no FDA recalls of the products, but the agency has initiated an investigation into the making of the treats. So far it has tested about three hundred treat samples but has yet to identify any contaminants. The FDA has issued three advisories warning people about chicken and duck jerky treats.
The Executive Congressional Commission on China held a hearing on public health and food safety in China on May 22, in which they discussed the safety of pet treats coming out of China.
“Part of the problem is that some of our companies are all too willing to take advantage of China’s lax safety standards, creating an un-level playing field for our home-grown producers.” Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown said in the hearing,
Brown questioned FDA veterinarian, Steve Solomon about the status of the agency’s investigation into the treats.
“The answer's not just laboratory testing and analytical testing of products, but also ensuring that the process is in control to produce safe products,” Solomon said.
When asked if he would recommend buying dog treats from China, Solomon didn’t have a direct response.
“It's not part of a necessary balanced diet,” he said. “I don't feed them to my dog because they're an unnecessary part of their diet.”
As for Rachael Chambers, the family has welcomed a new puppy Daisy. But she says she will continue campaigning until treat-makers and the FDA implement FSMA to protect consumers.
"Had we been informed, we wouldn't be here and Cali would be with us," said Chambers. She recently shared her story with filmmakers for "Pet Fooled," an upcoming documentary on the pet food industry.
“My biggest piece of advice is to become educated and know what you're buying as best as you can, Chambers told NBC Bay Area, "and if you're in doubt, don’t buy it.”
Do you have a tip for the Investigative Unit?
email us: TheUnit@nbcbayarea.com