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FDA Releases Jerky Pet Treat Investigation Update


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During the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) initial investigation of pet jerky treats, which began in 2007 and ran through Dec. 31, 2015, the agency received approximately 5,200 complaints of illness associated with consumption of chicken, duck or sweet potato jerky treats, most of which involve products imported from China.

The FDA released its most recent update, which includes the latest information about illness complaints, test findings and measures taken by the agency to identify the cause of the illnesses and deaths.

According to the FDA’s analysis, reported cases have declined in recent years—from September 2014 through the end of 2015, 200 reports were received; from May 2014 to September 2014, 270 cases were reported. After the FDA issued Center for Veterinary Medicine updates about its investigation, the agency received an increase in reports from the public, which was most pronounced in late 2013. Reported cases seem to be tapering off and have not exceeded 100 per quarter for the past 1.5 years, the agency reports.

To date, the reports involve more than 6,200 dogs, 26 cats and three people, and include more than 1,140 canine deaths, according to the FDA, which continues its investigation along with the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network, a group of animal health laboratories affiliated with the agency.

The majority of complaints involve chicken jerky (treats, tenders and strips), but others include sweet potato and duck, and treats where chicken or duck jerky is wrapped around dried fruits, sweet potatoes, yams or rawhide.

During its investigation, the FDA detected antimicrobial and antiviral residues in an imported duck jerky product. As a result, the FDA added duck jerky products to its testing methodology in 2015 and revised its existing Import Alert on May 11 to include all poultry jerky-type treats.

The agency’s Import Alert contains a list of companies and products subject to Detention without Physical Examination (once a product has been shown to contain an illegal residue or contaminant, the shipment is refused entry into the U.S. and either must be re-exported elsewhere or destroyed; every new shipment from that exporter must be analyzed by a private laboratory for the same illegal residue or contaminant). Click here for Import Alert details; click here for more information on jerky testing.

The agency continues to caution pet owners that jerky pet treats are not required for a balanced diet and encourages them to visit their pets’ veterinarians if they notice symptoms in their pets, such as decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea, increased water consumption and/or increased urination.

Owners who believe their pets have become ill from consuming a jerky pet treat, the FDA encourages them to report it electronically through the FDA’s Safety Reporting Portal or by phone to their local FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator. Each individual complaint becomes part of the body of knowledge that helps to inform the investigation, the agency stresses.

The FDA claims that because treats are not necessary for your pet’s diet, it’s safest to avoid treats made with these types of jerkies altogether. If pet owners are unsure of where a product is sourced from, skip it; it’s better to deny a dog a treat than to add to the tragedies that have already occurred, the agency states.

Susan Thixton, self-proclaimed pet food safety advocate and author of the blog, TruthAboutPetFood.com, says she is unimpressed with the FDA’s latest update.

“Nine years later, the FDA still can’t give consumers a cause to why thousands of pets have been sickened or killed by Chinese imported jerky treats,” she writes in her blog, “9 Years Later FDA Gives Consumers Nothing.” “And the update tells us FDA had nine opportunities to recall Chinese jerky treats—but did nothing.

“It is of concern that the FDA jerky treat update states ‘The agency continues to caution pet owners that jerky pet treats are not required for a balanced diet,’” Thixton adds. “The FDA ‘cautions’ pet owners about jerky treats and only about feeding jerky treats as a full diet—but gives no direct warning against jerky treats imported from China. Doesn’t more than 6,000 pet illnesses and more than 1,140 pet deaths deserve a warning?”

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