An official from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledged during a virtual scientific forum hosted by Kansas State University (KSU) in late September that there is no clear evidence indicating that grain-free foods with pulse ingredients are inherently dangerous for dogs and conceded that the “complex scientific messaging” was often lost in translation in the media.

The event, which took place virtually on Sept. 29, addressed these points and more with various industry participants, including pet food manufacturers and members of the FDA. FDA officials have stressed that its report during the event was not an investigative update.

“It’s an inflection point that provides FDA with an opportunity to clarify and emphasize some key points about non-hereditary DCM,” said Steven M. Solomon, DVM, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM).

Some of these points made by the FDA included reiterating that DCM is a scientifically complex, multifaceted disease, and that the development of DCM in dogs has a clear genetic component, and other potential factors, such as nutrition, may contribute.

The potential link between DCM and grain-free diets became a hot topic in July 2018 when the CVM issued an advisory to “alert pet owners and veterinarians about this animal health concern.”

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Ryan Yamka, Ph.D., the founder and independent consultant with Luna Science and Nutrition, who wrote about KSU’s event on the Petfood Industry’s blog, said, “I have been critical not only of how the investigation and data collection for this DCM issue have been conducted but also of the three FDA DCM advisories: the initial one in July 2018, plus the February 2019 and June 2019 follow-ups. This is because there was a significant level of miscommunication of information, but also significant issues in the way the information was disseminated with a lack of transparency to the veterinary, pet food industry and pet owner communities.”

During the event, FDA officials acknowledged that prior messages on this issue were often inaccurately reported on and misconstrued.

“I recognize that discussion on DCM have been sensitive for many, and CVM acknowledges the impact of the information we have released,” Solomon said. “Even terminology is difficult because of the impact of word choices when discussing this phenomenon … I appreciate the fact that FDA’s voice is the voice veterinarians and pet owners listen to, yet too often our messages have been repeated inaccurately by third parties. The result is that in the internet age of phenomenally fast sound bites, complex scientific messaging is often lost in translation.”

Solomon also confirmed that this is not a regulatory issue.

“And I want to be clear: we at CVM currently do not view this as a regulatory issue,” he said. “We have not requested any recalls. We have not taken any compliance or enforcement activity. This is a matter of science, and my hope and the hope of all the CVM staff working on this issue is that all the scientific expertise that is assembled here today will be able to put some more of the scientific puzzle pieces together.”

During the event, Solomon recognized that pulse ingredients, such as dried legume seeds, including peas, chickpeas and lentils, have been used in pet food for a long time.

“We have no evidence to indicate that [these ingredients] are inherently dangerous. However, CVM’s data show that they are used in these ‘grain-free’ diets in greater proportion than in grain-containing formulas, which means there is an area to investigate further,” Solomon said. “We have asked pet food manufacturers to share diet formulation information, which could substantially benefit the investigation.”

While the FDA initially named brands most associated with reported cases, officials said they do not plan on continuing this practice.

“No, we are not planning to update the commonly reported brands, as we are aware that several pet food companies have adjusted diet formulations since our initial announcements about DCM,” FDA officials said on its website addressing Q&A’s on the topic. “We have asked pet food manufacturers to share diet formulation information, which could substantially benefit our understanding of the role of diet in these cases. We continue to encourage pet owners to discuss their animals’ diets with their veterinarians.”

Moving forward, Solomon said he envisions the following steps:

  • “First, the scientific work and exchanges among this community will hopefully continue and expand, especially identifying any scientific gaps and collaborating to fill those gaps.”
  • “Second, to the extent that there is new information that helps clarify any previous misunderstanding or interpretation, we at FDA will work to find a way to communicate that information.”
  • “Third, FDA will continue to collaborate with ongoing scientific endeavors.”

Solomon said the FDA will offer additional updates if or when more “substantive scientific information” becomes available.

For more of PPN’s coverage on this topic, read: