Diamond Pet Foods to pet parent with ill dogs: Show us the proof or get lost

That is, unless you have a signed letter from your veterinarian saying your dog died due to a Salmonella infection. Because a clinical diagnosis isn’t good enough for Diamond, they are demanding laboratory tests confirming the presence of the Salmonella bacteria in pets; which is precisely what a woman, whose dog died after eating a recalled dog food, was told by Diamond Pet Foods.

Despite Diamond Pet Foods’ recall of over 155 formulas of pet food involving 13 brands with global distribution, an alarming FDA inspection report citing multiple failures at the pet food plant where the recalls originated, the company insists that consumers whose pets were affected provide laboratory evidence that their pet’s illness or death was caused by Diamond’s product.

A clinical diagnosis (of salmonellosis) based on knowledge obtained by medical history and physical examination alone, without benefit of laboratory tests, is not adequate evidence that the illness or death of a pet was due to a Diamond contaminated pet food and claims without it will be denied.

Even though FDA investigators found that Diamond’s plant failure to provide an adequate number of hand washing facilities, maintain sanitary equipment, and take all reasonable precautions to prevent Salmonella contamination from contributing to the illness of at least 16 people in nine states and an untold number of pets, Diamond Pet Foods expects consumers to pay for costly and unreliable blood or fecal tests for Salmonella, which ultimately may prove nothing at all.  Unless, that is, your vet is able to get a positive test result for Salmonella, you’re in luck. If not, you’re sh*t out of luck.

Karen’s Collie’s

Karen, a pet parent whose three collies became ill after feeding the recalled food to her dogs, one of whom died, describes her experience on eFoodAlert:

I was told that unless I had a signed note form my vet stating that a test proved the dog died from Salmonella, that they would not recognize any issues with my collies. I was stunned. I did take a poop sample to my vet, but since it was so obvious what was killing my collie, the vet didn’t see the need to do the test. What regret I have over that, even the fact that we bred collies for 15 years didn’t sway the Diamond vet. Everything I said was “not an official stat” because the vet test wasn’t done. Do not throw out the food! Double bag it like the bio-hazard it is and get with Diamond and your vet. The CDC has the genetic DNA fingerprint of this rare strain of Salmonella Infantis. Once diagnosed, it is easy to trace it back to Diamond, which the CDC has already done for us. When you send a sample to Diamond, DO NOT send them ALL of it. Keep a sample securely away from contact by living things in case your sample gets “lost”. Send a sample to FDA and CDC too. Until you get results, keep a small sample secure at your residence.

Incredibly, Diamond Pet Foods, despite the filthy conditions under which the recalled pet food was made in their Gaston, South Carolina plant and their failure to provide a safe and wholesome pet food resists accepting full responsibility by honoring all reasonable and valid claims; claims that some part of the production process created an unreasonably unsafe defect in the resulting pet food that led to the illness or death of a pet.

The Road Not Taken

Product liability insurance protects businesses like Diamond Pet Foods from claims related to the manufacture or sale of products, food, medicines or other goods to the public by covering the manufacturers for losses or injuries to a buyer, in this case the buyers pet(s).

If a pet food product is manufactured in such way that it is foreseeable that injury could result (for example, an unsanitary food production environment), and if the risk of injury could have been reduced by an alternative method (such as testing for pathogens, using good manufacturing practices), then a product is said to be defective (in this case, contaminated with a pathogen) in its method of manufacture.

More importantly, because Diamond Pet Foods was aware that the alternative method would in fact have reduced the foreseeable risks of harm associated with a contaminated pet food product, and the failure to use the alternative method made the product unreasonably unsafe at the time it was manufactured constitutes a breach of implied warranty. If a product is defective in the way that it was marketed, manufactured, or designed, and someone or something is injured as a result of that defect, then the manufacturer, distributor and/or seller of the product are usually liable, or responsible for the consequences of the defect.

Pets are Priceless

U.S. courts have typically viewed pets as property and limited any recovery to the cost of the animal and veterinarian bills. Recovery for emotional distress over the loss of a pet is rare. But some plaintiff lawyers are pushing the novel theory that pets are “special property” whose owners deserve compensation for emotional suffering.

“There’s really a lot to it — you have to look at the specific value to the owner,” maintains attorney Jay Edelson of the Chicago law firm of Blim & Edelson, who filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Dawn Majerczyk and others whose pets died after eating tainted products made by Menu Foods. “The special property issue is harder to win in court but even when it comes to property, not all property is treated the same.”

Victims involved in these cases want compensation, “but that’s only part of it. People want change in the industry; they want quality control markers and independent verification.” Pet food manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure that the food they eat is as safe as they can make it and when they fail to do so by applying reasonable care, then companies like Diamond Pet Foods have a financial responsibility to compensate pet parents for damages.

This is Your Wake-up Call

“It’s been a bit of a wake-up call for the pet industry… it’s taking awhile to get the entire pet food industry to pay attention, but with the increasing number of human cases associated with these pathogens, more attention is going to be paid to this,” said Robert Buchanan, PhD, professor and director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Food Safety and Security Systems. Foods for companion animals are supposed to be manufactured to the same degree of safety as human foods in the United States, said Dr. Buchanan. “Of course, there are failures in safety with human foods as well.”

The critical difference is, that when there is a failure in the safety of a human food those manufacturers are liable for the illness or death of any person as a result of a contaminated product, but when something goes wrong in pet food and causes the illness or death of a pet, pet food manufacturers are not held fully liable, because in the eyes of the law pets are property.

As long as the inequality of compensation and damages that are awarded to victims both human and animal remain, manufacturers like Diamond, who have continued for so many years to have failures in food safety, may now realize that when a pet gets sick the risk of cross-contamination from pet to human is a reality that can no longer be ignored.

The CDC estimates that over 1.2 million cases of Salmonella infections occur in humans, of these, approximately 42,000 are laboratory-confirmed cases reported to CDC. Almost 50% of people who were infected were kids two years of age or younger.

Perhaps now is the time for manufacturers like Diamond Pet Foods to contemplate the consequences an outbreak of Salmonella not just in pets, but in the humans who come in contact with a product contaminated with a pathogen capable of causing serious illness or death in our most vulnerable populations: the young, the frail, the elderly and in animals.


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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.