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AVMA chickens-out on chicken jerky pet treat policy

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s House of Delegates wimped-out last week from approving a proposal that would have discouraged the feeding of jerky treats to pets and instead recommended that veterinarians continue to work with federal investigators to determine whether jerky is to blame for the deaths of hundreds of animals since 2007.

The House of Delegates, which enacts policies for the veterinary profession, rather than stick their neck out, decided to send the petition packing back to the Executive Board suggesting a more effective means of safeguarding the health of pets would be for veterinarians to work with the FDA on “efforts to safeguard a healthy pet population through quality control of pet food and treats”:

Resolution 2-2014, which was submitted by member petition, requested that the AVMA adopt a position statement discouraging the feeding of jerky pet food products commonly known as jerky treats. The resolution was referred back to the AVMA Executive Board with the following recommendation: rather than developing a policy, the AVMA encourage its members to provide input to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on incidents and conditions, which could be associated with pet food and treats; and continue to work with FDA to enhance efforts in safeguarding a healthy pet population through quality control of pet food and treats.

The petition, submitted by more than 100 veterinarians, reflect their deep concern that the FDA has received more than 3,000 complaints of pet illness and some 580 deaths tied to the ingestion of jerky treats. The petition asks the AVMA to adopt a position statement discouraging the feeding of jerky pet treats and to prominently utilize a display and notification summary similar to the requirements reflected in Section 211 of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.

“Jerky pet treats are not necessary for adequate nutrition,” the proposed AVMA position statement reads. “Adulterants have been found in jerky pet treats, and to mitigate the risk that the pet may become sick and potentially die from ingesting them, the AVMA discourages the feeding of jerky pet treats until further information on their safety is available.”

The Executive Board, which is responsible for setting policy for AVMA members, is scheduled to take up the issue again in April. Until then, the board will collect information about the recommendation from AVMA entities such as the Food Safety Advisory Committee.

So, while FDA continues to search for answers, and the AVMA twiddle their thumbs, on what exactly is causing the association between jerky pet treat products and animal illnesses, the AVMA reminds its members that if they have treated any patients they suspect are ill because of these treats, “the FDA needs to hear from you”.

And as much as they wish there was a CDC for animals, there isn’t. So the best they can come up with, is to tell its members to stick together and remember that the FDA, “together with veterinarians and pet owners, is doing its best to determine the exact cause of these illnesses”.

I think it goes without saying that it’s important for pet owners and veterinarians to report potential cases to the FDA with as much detailed information as possible so that it can respond appropriately, but sadly, many vets leave it up to their clients to do it.


  • Some won’t go on record, period;
  • some fear legal action;
  • some have been sent ominous letters by pet food manufacturers;
  • some don’t know the FDA safety reporting portal even exists;
  • some have never heard of a Consumer Complaint Coordinator;
  • most have no conclusive scientific evidence that such a link exists between a pet’s food and their patient’s illness;
  • and the vets that do suspect a problem with a pet food, probably don’t have the time to make the reports;
  • it seems unlikely, but some vets may not know how to recognize a foodborne illness in pets;

So, instead of receiving concise, detailed medical records from vets, what the FDA usually receives are reports from angry and confused, grieving pet parents; reports that consist mainly of a tearful, confusing muddle of facts, most of which they probably don’t remember, because a.) they are traumatized and/or b.) they aren’t vets.

For the vets that are unwilling or are unable to take an active role in reporting adverse pet food events to the FDA, the AVMA  encourages them to have their clients do the dirty work and to “write down a thorough exposure history including all foods, treats, medications, etc. their pet has ingested” and have them file the reports. After all, “As veterinarians, we can all do our part by alerting pet owners to the ongoing investigation and informing them of how to report complaints for these or any other FDA regulated products”.


SOURCE: AVMA House of Delegates wrap-up, January 2014

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Mollie Morrissette

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

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