Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pet food poison and pithed America

We all know frogs will jump out of a beaker of slowly warming water -- long before it boils.

If they've been "pithed" however, they'll just lie there. Pithed frogs don't hop.

Americans have been pithed. Fifteen years ago any of the melamine/cyanuric acid pet food poisoning, Heparin contamination, surveillance society or a dozen similar stories would have resulted in general excitement and even regulatory action.

Now, we just give 'em a stunned look and move on. Maybe it's all we can do. After 12 years of GOP rule (8 of Bush, 4 where the GOP held the House and Senate) we're kind of crushed.

So I really shouldn't be quoting this SF Chronicle article telling us nothing has changed in the pet food world (emphases mine):
The Pet Food Recall: One Year Later, Has Anything Changed?

A year ago, Canada's Menu Foods announced it was recalling more than 60 million containers of dog and cat food sold in the United States. Although the name Menu Foods wasn't familiar to pet owners, the recalled cans and pouches bore the labels of dozens of the most familiar and trusted brands in the marketplace.

In the end, more than 1,000 brands of pet food were recalled over a period of about four months, and two chemicals, melamine and cyanuric acid, were blamed for kidney failure that killed thousands and sickened tens of thousands of pets from what came to be called melamine-associated renal failure....

...I didn't guess when I began covering this story with Gina Spadafori at Pet Connection that it would turn into the largest consumer recall in history, trigger an international trade scandal, launch congressional hearings, spur proposed legislation on food safety and get both American and Chinese businesses owners indicted. I couldn't have foreseen that the incident would put a spotlight on Chinese imports which would eventually reveal lead in children's toys and toxins in toothpaste, and prompt the recent recall of the drug heparin.

But it's equally hard to believe that after all that, the answer to the question "Could it happen again?" is probably "Yes."

The reason for that is simple: None of the changes that might prevent a repeat of last year's pet food recall have been implemented. There have been no improved inspections of pet food plants, no comprehensive overhaul of the patchwork of state, federal and industry manufacturing standards and regulations, no increased transparency and accountability — not even something as simple as printing the name and contact information of the actual manufacturer on pet food labels — and no revisions to pet food labeling laws. The Food and Drug Administration still does not have the authority to issue mandatory recalls.

Most of us closely involved in this story find all that hard to understand. "In this age of potential bio-terror and random cross-species crossover horrors like the avian flu, this is incomprehensible," said Pet Connection editor Gina Spadafori. "Our animals are the canaries in the coal mine, and as bad as the death toll was in our pets, it could have been much, much worse, in both animal and human populations. So why is there still not a national veterinary reporting system for a nationwide emergence of disease that is not only killing animals but could also potentially already be in or emerging in the human population? And why are we still unable to inspect all but the tiniest percentage of imported foods?"...

...The adulteration of protein concentrates with melamine and cyanuric acid was found to be both longstanding and widespread in China, so it seemed unlikely something like this hadn't happened before.

And in fact, it had. The Journal of Veterinary Investigative Diagnosis recently reported that melamine and cyanuric acid contamination was responsible for the deaths of thousands of pets in 2004.

Researchers working with tissue samples from animals who died in the U.S. recall compared them to samples from pets who died in a number of Asian regions including the Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong. Those deaths led to a recall of Pedigree dog foods and Whiskas cat foods, and were blamed on mycotoxin contamination. But the study found that both groups of pets had the unmistakable crystals and damage in the kidneys caused by melamine and cyanuric acid.

While there's no evidence any other mycotoxin-attributed food recalls, pet or human, were misidentified, it does put the pet food recall squarely in the big picture of this country's broken food safety system.

A fix for that broken system may be coming, even if it's a bit slow. The FDA recently announced a meeting where it will discuss changes in the regulation of pet food ingredients, processing and labeling with representatives from the pet food industry, government agencies, veterinary medical associations, animal health organizations and pet food manufacturers at that meeting. One group not on that list is pet owners, but they have asked to hear from us. Comments should be made on docket number 2007n-0487 at [jf: I tried this. I don't think the site is accepting comments yet on this item. I'd recommend an email to your Senator or Representative instead.]

"The recalls exposed deep problems with food safety regulation in China as well as in the United States, and I see many signs of efforts to do something about them," said Nestle. "Lasting improvements won't happen overnight, and they won't happen at all unless people who care about these issues keep pressuring the industry and the FDA to do what they say they will do."

Did you catch the implication that we ought to be reexamining other "mycotoxin" or "fungal" related food poisoning episodes to see which were the result of fraud?

I'm sympathetic to the stunned -- I'm about half-pithed myself. It takes a lot of energy to put pressure on the FDA in the best of times, but this is Bush's FDA -- neutered, broken, led by people opposed to their own mission.

If we put McCain into the White House we deserve to eat Melamine and lead for breakfast.

1 comment:

Clara the Lady Wolf said...

Yes, it's mind-boggling that any thinking American would even consider a vote for McCain; let's say that if he gets in, those responsible deserve to eat whatever chemical they find in their food (but the rest of us and our pets don't deserve fate).

True, there is very little each of us can do about the way things are and the terrible extent to which they've developed during the past 8years. And that is exasperating and very frightening. It truly has had numbed our minds, even if not our emotions, or maybe it's the other way around. However, each of us can and ought to speak up, as you suggest, and demand decent regulations and enforcement regarding the processing and labeling of our food and our pets' food. I certainly will.

Further, something urgently and drastically needs to be done to cut off or limit importation of any food products from China.
You're right ...this is Bush's FDA and Bush doesn't care about a thing except his own agenda and power base. But if we start making enough noise now, it may cause a ripple that will be heard by the time the new administration is elected. We need to try.

I have a post on my blog (and a picture of a dove that goes with it)about keeping hope alive, even in the absence of optimism. That's how I felt when I wrote it a few months ago. Part of keeping hope alive is making an effort to make things right, or at least a little bit more right than they are.

Thanks for this post.

Clara Landau