sweet baby and dog at window waiting and watching

Countdown to Black Friday for Pets: Day Five

sweet baby and dog at window waiting and watching

It seems appropriate that on the fifth day I should publish the story of the difference between the safety of food for humans vs. the safety of food for animals and how that difference was demonstrated in a recent food safety crisis at the retailer we are petitioning: Wal-Mart.

I must preface this story with a caveat: This story is not meant to diminish the tragic death of an infant, nor is it meant to compare the value of the life of an innocent child over the death of a beloved pet.

With that said, I hope you will understand my only wish is too illuminate the divide in our society that created a legal system that protects one species over another.

Five Days vs. Five Years

The comparison between a sick child and a sick pet may strike some as absurd or even insensitive, except for the people who regard their pet as family.  Yet, most would probably agree that the illness or death of beloved pet or a precious child is a tragedy, nonetheless.

All life is precious, whether it is a human or an animal.  However, in most segments of society fundamentally there is a divide, a philosophical separation when looking at how corporations handle their responsibility when it comes to products for children and products for animals.  Consumers, who think of their pets as a member of their family, deserve the same protection.

One case in particular exemplifies this difference.  In December of last year an infant died.  An infant formula, which had been the subject of an investigation months  before, led to speculation that the formula may have been contaminated with a bacteria.

Although the formula was not under investigation, nor did testing show a problem with the product, retail giant Wal-Mart acted swiftly in removing the product from stores almost immediately following the infant’s death.

It was later discovered that the products did not to contain the suspect bacteria.  The source of the bacteria was eventually found, not in the feeding formula, but in the feeding tubes which had not been properly maintained by hospital staff.

Wal-Mart and other retailers are facing another ethical choice – but this time it is not an infant, but a dog.  Not just one dog, but many, many dogs.  The death of hundreds of dogs and over two thousand illnesses in dogs have been reported to the FDA after being fed a product made for pets. The irony is that the product is a treat. A deadly treat.

Five Years

Five years have passed, and the discovery of the toxin has remained elusive. Despite the ongoing FDA investigation and a visit from FDA investigators to manufacturing facilities in China, where the suspect treats are made, the government has taken no steps to issue an import alert even though they have the legal authority to do so.

Specifically, in Section 306 of the Food Safety Modernization Act it spells out the terms under which the FDA has the authority refuse to admission into the U.S. any product if an investigation of that product or it’s facility is thwarted as it was when the Chinese government refused to let FDA investigators to take samples of the suspect product for testing in laboratories in the U.S.:

Sec. 306. Inspection of Foreign Food Facilities
(b) Effect of Inability To Inspect.–Notwithstanding any other provision of law, food shall be refused admission into the United States if it is from a foreign factory, warehouse, or other establishment of which the owner, operator, or agent in charge, or the government of the foreign country, refuses to permit entry of United States inspectors or other individuals duly designated by the Secretary, upon request, to inspect such factory, warehouse, or other establishment.

Despite the FDA’s unwillingness to upset the trade relationship with China, U.S. retail giants, like Wal-Mart, who depend on China for cheap goods and who want to protect relationships with valued vendors like Nestle-Purina, maintain that their reason for not pulling the product is because the FDA has not issued a recall, therefore they are in no way obligated to voluntarily remove the product.

While the search for the toxin continues, the product remains on the market posing an imminent danger to pets unless retailers, like Wal-Mart, take a proactive stance by assuming a leading role in food safety, not just for people, but for pets too. Because for many, the loss of a beloved pet can be as painful as the loss of a family member, because for them their pet was a member of their family.

Five Days

Sunday

  • Sunday, December 19, 2011: In Missouri, a ten day old infant dies of unknown causes.

Monday

  • Monday, December 20, 2011: The following day retail giant Wal-Mart began the process of removing Enfamil Newborn powdered formula that matched the size and lot number of the formula involved in the fatal case from stores nationwide in more than 3,000 U.S. Wal-Mart locations late Monday night, a spokeswoman said.
  • Wal-Mart stopped selling the product immediately after learning of the infant’s death.

Wednesday

  • Wednesday, December 21, 2011: On late Wednesday, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced it had pulled from its outlets nationwide all cans of Enfamil Newborn powdered formula manufactured by Mead Johnson that matched the size and lot number of the formula involved in the fatal case.
  • Wal-Mart spokeswoman Dianna Gee said the company decided to pull the lot “out of an abundance of caution” while health officials investigate Sunday’s death.
  • We extend our deepest condolences to this baby boy’s family as they try to come to grips with their loss,” said Dianna Gee, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.  “As soon as we heard what happened, we immediately reached out to the manufacturer of the formula and to the Department of Health and Human Services to provide any information we may have to help with the investigation.
  • Even if the product is not tainted, the Enfamil brand is likely to suffer, analysts said on Wednesday.  “Until the issue is resolved – and even for a period of time after – we would expect weak Enfamil sales,” said JP Morgan analyst Ken Goldman in a research note.  “The question is how bad and how long the perception of tainted formula – right or wrong – will last in the public’s mind.
  • The batch in question tested negative for the bacteria when it was packaged, Mead Johnson said on Wednesday.
  • It had not been determined whether the formula caused the baby’s death and there had been no link between the illness and the formula.
  • Later, the The FDA and CDC issued a statement declaring, “there is no need for a recall of the infant formula and parents may continue to use powdered infant formula, following the manufacturer’s directions on the printed label.

Thursday

  • Thursday, December 22, 2011: Stock of Mead Johnson shares were down 10.8 percent at $68.25 late on Thursday afternoon, off an earlier low at $60.68.

Friday

  • Friday, December 23, 2011: Several more national retailers joined Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in pulling the batch of powdered infant formula from their shelves in an “effort to protect consumers” after the Missouri newborn who consumed it apparently died of a rare bacterial infection, the companies said Friday.
  • Officials at Supervalu Inc., Walgreen Co., Kroger Co., and Safeway said they have removed 12.5-ounce cans of Enfamil Newborn from all of their stores across the country “as a precaution” until federal health officials complete tests on the formula.
  • “Out of an abundance of caution, we are removing the formula from certain stores,” SuperValu spokesman Mike Siemienas said Friday.  “We will hold these products from sale until we receive additional guidance from regulatory authorities and the manufacturer.”
  • Wall Street investors reacted warily to the news, with shares of Mead Johnson falling a second straight day Friday amid investor concerns.

To find out more, please visit:
Black Friday for Pets Protest

Black Friday for Pets
WalMart Stores, Inc: Stop the sale of toxic pet treats or face Black Friday for Pets protestors at WalMart stores nationwide

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and advisor to AAFCO. Help support her work by making a donation today.

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