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FDA Answers Questions About Evanger’s, Updates Expanded Recall While Speculation Swirls Over Horse Meat Scandal

FDA posted an update today addressing Evanger’s announcement earlier this week regarding the expansion of an earlier recall of Evanger’s canned Hunk of Beef and its Against the Grain Grain Free Pulled Beef with Gravy canned dog food after unopened cans from both brands were found to contain pentobarbital to include all Evanger’s “chunk style” beef pet food products.

The updated FDA notice reads:

On February 20, 2017, Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food notified the FDA that it planned to recall all “chunk beef” products under the Evanger’s and Against the Grain brands. On February 27, 2017, the FDA became aware that Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food was notifying its distributors and retailers of a new recall for lots of Evanger’s Braised Beef Chunks with Gravy as well as expanding the previous recall for additional lots of Evanger’s canned Hunk of Beef and Against the Grain’s Grain Free Pulled Beef with Gravy.

The 12-ounce cans of dog food being recalled have the following barcodes. The numbers listed below are the second half of the barcode, which can be found on the back of the product label:

Evanger’s Hunk of Beef: 20109
Evanger’s Braised Beef: 20107
Against the Grain Pulled Beef: 80001

The products have expiration dates of December 2019-January 2021.

Q&A SESSION WITH THE FDA ON EVANGER’S

The FDA also posted in conjunction with today’s update on Evanger’s recalls a comprehensive Questions and Answers: Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food product safety information page for consumers answering many of the misconceptions and falsehoods Evanger’s continues to propagate in their defense.

While the questions and answers were illuminating, and indeed, fascinating, one glaring omission remained: What about the discovery of horse meat in Evanger’s pet food?

THE HORSE IN THE ROOM

Last Friday, Holly Sher, the president of Evanger’s along with her two twins, Brett and Chelsea Sher, answered some questions in a YouTube video about recent events involving the discovery of pentobarbital in their pet food. They let it slip that testing of their food came back positive for “equine DNA,” AKA horse meat.

Unfortunately, the video brought up more questions than it sought to answer, leaving consumers wondering which Evanger’s or Against the Grain pet food products tested positive for horse meat, and how much horse meat was found in the pet food?

A clue to what was about to unfold lay in an update on Evanger’s website on January 19, 2017, where they said they “sent a can of the recalled product to a lab for genetic species identification.” And then a few days later, Joel Sher, Evanger’s vice president, admitted to a reporter that DNA analysis found horse meat in their pet food, saying when the company sent the food out for DNA analysis:

“The results showed beef, as well as horse DNA.”

Eventually, Evanger’s admitted in a letter sent to their customers that their pet food tested “positive for equine DNA and beef DNA,” but Evanger’s was quick to blame its supplier for providing the company with dodgy drug-laced horse-meat. And to date, Evanger’s has never offered an explanation for how the tainted horse meat possibly got into their pet food in the first place.

Another clue to the horse-meat scandal is that it may not be a scandal at all. Because, according to the FDA, testing by USDA-FSIS of Evanger’s Hunk of Beef confirmed that the meat used in the product was bovine (beef). And here’s the interesting bit:

“Trace amounts of pork and equine were also found, but both were less than 2% and therefore considered by FSIS as ‘not reportable.’”

Could it be that Evanger’s is reporting trace amounts of pork and equine material; Material that could be attributed to a simple matter of cross-contamination?

One thing is certain, and that would be that the discovery of horse meat could neatly explain the presence of the euthanasia drug, pentobarbital, as presumably, it was chunks of euthanized horses that were used to make Evanger’s pet food and not chunks of beef.

SIDE-STEPPING THE HORSE MEAT ISSUE

While neatly side-stepping the central issue of the horrifying discovery of horse meat in their pet food, Ms. Sher is quick to divert the focus away from the sensitive subject by continuing her rant in the YouTube video blaming the FDA for what she misinterprets as the FDA allowance of pentobarbital in pet food. Citing the FDA discovery of trace amounts of pentobarbital found in dry dog food in 1998, she says, “the FDA knew about this problem and did nothing.” Claiming that laws allow for pentobarbital in pet food, Ms. Sher frantically urges other pet food manufacturers to join her cause in a call to arms, declaring, “we need to get these laws changed now!

But the FDA is clear on this issue; the FDA does not allow pentobarbital in pet food. Accordingly, the FDA posted in their update today:

“It is not acceptable to use animals euthanized with a chemical substance in pet or other animal foods. The detection of pentobarbital in pet food renders the product adulterated. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to take the appropriate steps to ensure that the food they produce is safe for consumption and properly labeled.”

As such, Evanger’s was forced to conduct a recall on the adulterated food because it had pentobarbital in it. There is no ambiguity in why their pet foods had to be recalled, yet why Evanger’s fails to grasp this salient fact is beyond me.

THERE’S A REASON TO SEPARATE CARCASSES

Accidents do happen and there is always the risk that the remains of euthanized animals brought to an unregulated meat processing facility or a rendering plant if those carcasses are not properly segregated. An FDA spokeswoman in an email to The Sun on Friday said rendering plants should separate carcasses of animals euthanized with drugs:

“It is the responsibility of the salvage facility collecting these animals to determine how they died and to separate those animals appropriately,” she said. “Pentobarbital residues are not affected by rendering or canning temperatures and pressures (such as heat treatments capable of killing pathogenic organisms), and therefore animals euthanized with a chemical substance such as pentobarbital cannot be used in the manufacture of pet foods.”

However, as the Evanger’s recalled products were made with chunks of meat and were not made with rendered meat material, it leaves the question: Where did the supplier obtain euthanized horses and how were they processed prior to delivery at Evanger’s?

THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?

Since we have no information from Evanger’s, we can only speculate how deboned horse meat might have ended at Evanger’s pet food plants. To understand how this travesty may have occured, we need to take a look at what happens to horses after they die in the United States.

When a horse comes to the end of its usefulness to mankind, or it suffers from an ailment or a disease that can’t be cured, there are two possible outcomes: It is euthanized humanely by a veterinarian, or it is sent to Canada or Mexico to be slaughtered. After it is euthanized, and depending on what state the horse is in, and the wishes and resources of its owner, the horse will either be incinerated, buried or sent to a rendering plant.

A LIKELY SCENARIO

Since it is highly unlikely horses shipped for slaughter outside the United States were euthanized with pentobarbital, we can assume the source of Evanger’s euthanized horse flesh was obtained in Illinois according to the State’s Dead Animal Disposal Act from a veterinary university, or other location, where animals are picked up by dead animal haulers to be disposed of by incineration, burial, or rendering.

We can only speculate that in the case of Evanger’s meat supplier, who might have employed the services of a dead animal hauler who was not too particular about how or where the dead animals came from, or for how they were to be disposed of. Presumably, the dead animal hauler illegally disposed of the euthanized horses by shipping it to the unscrupulous meat supplier who then processed the horses and sold it to Evanger’s as chunks of hand-deboned beef.

IS EVANGER’S LEGIT?

Evanger’s has repeatedly attempted to refute FDA reports, insisting their dishonest meat supplier (the one they had a relationship with for the past 40 years) was indeed inspected by the USDA. When asked in the YouTube video, “Does Evanger’s follow any sort of Federal or State guidelines?” Brett Sher answers:

“Evanger’s is inspected by many different agencies – FDA, USDA, USDA Organic, the Illinois State Department of Agriculture and we’re also Kosher.”

Incredibly, Mr. Sher managed to get the answer to the question wrong on every single point. They are not inspected by the FDA, the USDA, the USDA National Organic Program, or the Illinois State Department of Agriculture for that matter.

As far as Evanger’s being Kosher, the plant was inspected once in 2003 during the initial inspection of the premises in order to qualify for an endorsement by the Chicago Rabbinical Council. However, it is important to note that the food is not made with Kosher meat, which the president of Evanger’s said would be prohibitively expensive.

Evanger’s is certified for the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) by a third-party certifier called Orgeon Tilth. Certifiers only visit the facility once during their initial evaluation to determine whether they qualify for the NOP.  Currently, Oregon Tilth is reconsidering whether to continue to allow Evanger’s to use the USDA National Organic Program seal to certify their pet food as organic based on recent FDA inspection reports that found numerous significant concerns with conditions found at both the Wheeling, IL and Markham, IL plants.

HUMAN-GRADE HORSE-MEAT?

The FDA identified on a bill of lading from Evanger’s meat supplier the meat they had been using was “Inedible Hand Deboned Beef” further identified as “FOR PET FOOD USE ONLY. NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION” which does not have a grant of inspection from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service. Therefore, the meat products from this supplier cannot bear a USDA inspection mark, nor would they be considered human grade. Further, the FDA’s preliminary assessment indicates that “none of their suppliers are USDA-FSIS registered facilities.”

Which, up until recently, Evanger’s falsely claimed that all the ingredients used to make their pet food were indeed human grade. Evanger’s mercifully saw the wisdom of removed the term “human-grade” from their product information page after the FDA busted them, but remarkably they still stubbornly have insisted on keeping their questionable “USDA inspected meats” claim.

At this point, I would strongly suggest that Evanger’s remove their “USDA inspected meat” claim, particularly in light of the fact that their dodgy meat supplier may have been supplying them with drug-laced horse-meat instead of chunks of beef.

OTHER QUESTIONS REMAIN UNANSWERED

  • The FDA was unable to determine from available records whether any other Evanger’s or Against the Grain products made with beef contain any of the beef that went into the recalled products.
  • The FDA is still conducting an investigation that involves inspections, sample collection, testing, traceback, and more of Evanger’s, but cannot speculate on possible further actions at this time.
  • Evanger’s is a contract manufacturer for other pet food companies and the FDA is working to determine if those companies, received impacted product.
  • The initial observations of the Wheeling, IL, and Markham, IL plants and do not represent a final FDA determination regarding Evanger’s compliance with regulations. The FDA investigation is ongoing, and they cannot comment on any potential actions the agency may take in this case.
  • In wondering what further action is the FDA taking or considering? The FDA will only say at this point they are continuing to investigate this incident and cannot speculate on possible further actions at this time.

CONSUMER ACTION PLAN

Consumers with cans of product subject to the facilities’ voluntary recalls should refer to the firms’ respective press releases for information about returning the product, here and here. Consumers with questions may contact Evanger’s at 1-847-537-0102 between 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM Central Time, Monday – Friday.

As of today, there is no further information posted on Evanger’s recall notification web page regarding today’s expanded recall notice by the FDA .

The FDA is urging consumers to report adverse events with any Evanger’s pet food to contact the FDA immediately. Oral exposure to pentobarbital can cause drowsiness, dizziness, excitement, loss of balance, nausea, nystagmus (eyes moving back and forth in a jerky manner), inability to stand, coma and death. Consumers who notice these symptoms in their pets should consult their veterinarian. To find out more, visit the FDA and learn How to Report a Pet Food Complaint.

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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.

Comments (7) Write a comment

  1. Pingback: Evanger's Publishes Dog Food Test Results for Dangerous Drug, Horsemeat Questions Remain - Poisoned Pets | A look inside the pet food industry

  2. Hi Mollie,

    We use Evanger’s Organics, so I’m interested in the news about Oregon Tilth. I contacted them (via email) when the reports about the conditions at the plants became public, but never heard back. I’m glad they’re taking some action. How did you find out about it?

    Thanks for keeping us informed!

    Reply

    • I contacted Oregon Tilth by phone and spoke with them, and they told me they will be looking into the matter. That’s all they can say at this point.

      I will let you know when I find out any more information about their organic certification.

      Reply

  3. Thanks for posting the best “untangling” of this story on the web. You are the modern equivalent of the early 20th century muckraker.

    The Shers are stooping to new lows as they scramble to deflect responsibility. We must examine the societal phenomena as to why consumers continue to allow themselves to hold confidence in pet food manufacture. In a sense, we are all to blame for this debacle.

    Reply

    • Thanks, Peter. It’s not any fun speculating – but in the absence of real information from Evanger’s regarding their meat supplier, we are left wondering – how in the world did this happen? I have to put forward all the possibilities. I’m sure they don’t like it, but, hey, this is my job.

      Reply

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