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The Anatomy of Pet Food Recalls

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Photo of Stacked Cases of Recalled Pet Foods

Stacked Cases of Recalled Pet Foods

Photo Credit: © Getty Images, Joe Raedle

Like every pet owner, I hate pet food recalls. I hate them because of the insipient fears they foment for the safety of my own cats. Even though my own cats escape through a stroke of luck, I hate them because my heart breaks for those whose cats were not so fortunate, making it difficult to write without letting emotions creep in. And as a writer, I hate them because of the inescapable feelings of inadequacy because of my failure to give them the kind of instant coverage they deserve in order to quickly get pertinent information out to my readers. Even the fact that I live in the PST time zone gives me and my readers a disadvantage.

Pet food recalls pose a burden requiring immediate attention for writers who manage a "full service" website, such as this one, which covers 15 major topics including everything from cat care to cat behavior, spay and neuter information, litter box care, and dozens of articles about the feline-human bond. In addition, a busy forum is managed, a weekly newsletter emailed, and hundreds of emails each week must be answered.

Websites such as TruthAboutPetFood.com have a distinct advantage during recalls, because the writers have only one goal in mind: in this case, Susan Thixton covers all aspects of pet food, from pet food reviews, to warnings about pet foods with inadequate or dangerous ingredients, to front page coverage during pet food recalls. I admire Susan a great deal, and have subscribed not only to her newsletter, but also have a paid subscription to her Petsumer Report, which gives a complete breakdown of most pet food brands, including any "red flag ingredients," and information whether any ingredients are imported from China.

Even more narrowly focused are websites such as PoisonedPets.com, whose primary focus is reporting the bad things about the pet food industry.

Another advantage over websites such as mine are held by those "conglomerate" sites which are authored by a number of professional writers. In contrast, at About.com each site, with just two or three exceptions, are managed by one person, a Guide for that site, a distinct disadvantage when urgent news requiring hours of research demands immediate attention.

Pet Food Recalls are a Nightmare

Excuses aside, in every case, pet food recalls are frightening for writers, pet owners, and veterinarians, for two main reasons:

1. Valid Information is Slow in Coming

Subsequent rumors and speculation fly though the Internet because of initial false information. The Menu Food recalls are a good example. Soon after the recall was announced, it was announced by the Associated Press that aminopterin, a rat poison that is illegal in the U.S., had been found in tainted cat food. It was the first indication that whatever was sickening and killing pets was found in wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate in the recalled foods. Although it was later overshadowed by a newer discovery, the first clues arose that whatever was tainting the pet foods had likely come from China.

Subsequently, on March 30, 2007, an FDA press conference was held, announcing that melamine had been found in samples of the recalled pet foods. While melamine in small amounts are not particularly toxic, in concentrated amounts, it can cause kidney failure, especially in cats. By that time there were 14 animal deaths reported in the U.S., caused by tainted food. Later, the FDA disclosed that melamine had been found in the kidneys and urine of the cats who died, and in the food they had eaten. In the meantime, pets all over the country had sickened and died, which created turmoil for writers, and fear, grief, and anger for pet parents

2. Fear and Panic Ensue for our Pets

Most cat caregivers consider our cats to be members of our families, and nothing strikes more terror in our hearts than worry about our children getting sick. During the 2007 recalls, I only had three cats: Jaspurr, Joey, and Billy, and as memory serves, of all the foods on the original list, I had only fed them Nutro Natural Choice, and I stopped serving it immediately. Also, because I've always made a practice of rotating cat foods, they were not eating that food exclusively, nor for long.

Our panic was exacerbated by the ongoing reports of deaths of doga and cats due to eating the melamine-contaminated food. In April, 2007, just one month into in the disaster, one website reported 2011 pets had died already. The fear, of course, was "Will my cat(s) be next?" TheTruthAboutPetFood.com reports, "From the 2007 melamine pet food recall alone, some estimates are as high as 300,000 U.S. and Canadian pets became sick, died, or are still fighting kidney disease. Countless thousands more pets have become sick from recalls or silent recalls of tainted pet food since."

Vindication

Susan Thixton is the spokesperson for an anonymous doner who has set aside five acres of land at Keystone Lake in Oklahoma which is turning into a memorial garden for the thousands of pets killed by tainted pet foods. Each pet is represented by a personalized pathway stone, a silent tribute to those pets we have lost.

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