What We Know – and Don’t – About Pet Food Toxin

How to Prevent and Treat Your Dog's Broken Nails

The recent pet food recall has created a great deal of drama in
the pet-oriented population of this country. The good news is that,
while not yet resolved, things seem to be settling down. The bad
news is that we still are unsure of exactly what caused the problem
and are even more unsure of the extent of the problem.
The recent pet food recall has created a great deal of drama in the pet-oriented population of this country. The good news is that, while not yet resolved, things seem to be settling down. The bad news is that we still are unsure of exactly what caused the problem and are even more unsure of the extent of the problem.

At this point there has been some good investigation and science to help contain the potential for harm to our pets. We know that kidney failure has been the primary problem associated with the contamination of the pet food stream. We feel sure that the problem originated in wheat gluten and rice protein that came from China – the newest big trading partner for the United States.

We know that there is an association between whatever is poisoning our pets and melamine – a substance used in plastics and fertilizers that registers like protein on gross chemical analysis. We know that melamine was being used by these unethical suppliers of pet food components to make them appear higher in protein; thereby getting a higher price for their product. We know that less than 1 percent of the pet food out there was contaminated. That means that at its worst, 99 percent of the pet food on the market was safe for consumption.

We have learned that our monitoring of food products coming from China, as well as some other sources is inadequately sampled for safety. We are in the process of coming to understand that the laissez faire attitude of the Bush administration has created an environment in the food handling industry that opens the market to unethical behaviors.

Some of the problems still out there are attributable to this lack of oversight and the lack of full scientific study of the problem. The FDA cannot yet give the “all clear” on all pet foods because it has been difficult to be sure that all contaminated food is off the shelves. It is believed that melamine is not the primary problem causing the kidney failure syndrome, but we do not yet know what is causing it (just that melamine seems to be present in the foods that cause it). More science needs to be applied.

According to DVM Magazine, the FDA has “decided to centralize food-safety decision-making in Washington, D.C., cut back on inspections and hope that food producers and manufacturers will self-police their industry based on voluntary guidelines.”

At this point we really do not have solid numbers on the extent or range of the problem. We won’t be able to make such a claim until we at least know what the actual toxin is. There have also been deaths in pets in South Africa and Puerto Rico. There have been some unscientific surveys that indicate somewhere between 1,000 and 15,000 animals have been affected. The problem with these numbers is that they are based on “clinical impressions” rather than scientific analysis. We do not know how much hysteria has played a role in these statistics. In the case of vaccine induced cancers in cats, the original estimates were 1,500 times greater than the real numbers that emerged after full study.

Another problem that is as yet not fully understood is the possible impact on the human food chain. Substantial amounts of the recalled pet food was resold to pig farms to use as pig food in California, South Carolina and North Carolina. The FDA believes they have quarantined all the pigs that ate the food, but that is also based on conjecture rather than science.

There is much yet to evolve in this story, including the legal implications for the pet food producers and the difficult problem of policing outsourcing from such a corrupt and provincial place as China – where central authority is almost completely lacking to create a safe chain of control for materials bound for the rest of the world. Think about the implications for technology, software and hardware as well as foods.

Back to the good news, remember that at least 99 percent of the pet food sold during the worst of this event was safe. Now it would be very difficult to find any of the contaminated food if you tried. This incident may also work as an alarm to prevent much bigger issues from playing out in the future.

I can assure you that there is much more to be learned and I will have several more columns on this and related issues in the near future.

Dr. John Quick has owned and operated the Animal Care Center in Morgan Hill for 25 years. He is a founder of WERC and Furry Friends Foundation and was Morgan Hill Male Citizen of the Year in 2003. Dr. Quick is also on the Morgan Hill Times Executive Editorial Board and the Community Law Enforcement Foundation Board.

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