FDA on the Intentional Adulteration of Pet Food: Meh.

Today, FDA released its final rule to implement the intentional adulteration provisions of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

But, wait. Don’t get too excited.

You remember the largest pet food recall in U.S. history? When 60 million cans and pouches of deadly pet food had to be recalled after thousands of pets were killed by adulterated pet food in 2007, striking terror into the heart of every American with a dog or a cat. Indeed, at the time, it was the largest recall of any consumer product ever recorded. And one that consumers are unlikely to ever forget.

The FDA forgot it, though. Or maybe they do remember, but they just don’t give a shit.

Because, in the FDA FSMA Final Rule for Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration the agency intentionally exempted all food for animals in the final rule:

EXEMPTIONS: Manufacturing, processing, packing, or holding of food for animals.

Maybe they don’t think pet food will ever be a target for economic adulteration. But, a recent stack up of adulterated food fiascos in the New York Times should scare the pants off anyone; in Law and Intestinal Disorder: Police Crack Down on Toxic Food, they highlight some of the more unsavory selections:

“Care for an appetizer? How about 154 pounds of chicken intestines soaked in formalin, a prohibited food additive, that were seized in Indonesia?

Or perhaps some Italian olives that were painted with copper sulfate solutions to make them look greener, or sugar that was cut with fertilizer in Sudan? And don’t even ask about the illicit alcohol concocted in Greece, Britain or Burundi.”

According to the article, criminals make millions of dollars a year peddling such swill to unwitting buyers, according to the international police agencies Interpol and Europol.

Yet, the FDA will turn a blind eye to such horrors if it involves food for animals, because, according to FDA, the purpose of this rule is to protect food from intentional acts of adulteration where there is an intent to cause “wide scale public health harm.”

The agency concluded that,

“FDA tentatively concluded in the proposed rule that animal food is not at a high risk for intentional contamination because our analysis shows that adulteration of animal food has minimal potential for human morbidity and mortality which would lead to wide scale public health harm.”

Adding, “As such, the proposed rule would not apply to the manufacturing, processing, packing, or holding of food for animals other than man.”

As expected, the feed industry is thrilled with the exemption of animal food in the rule. The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) said today,

“…as recommended in comments submitted in 2014 by the NGFA and NAEGA, FDA’s final rule exempts from the intentional adulteration regulations facilities that manufacture, process, pack or stor animal feed and pet food,” adding, “the associations expressed their strong support for FDA’s proposed exemption of animal feed and pet food from the regulation.”

Perhaps, but economically motivated adulteration of pet food and animal feed ingredients is a significant concern because it places control of the supply chain in the hands of criminals.

Historically, adulterated ingredients are not limited to one food sector. As example, the same toxic chemicals used to boost protein levels in pet food ingredients were used in human foods as well. Most notably, was the adulteration of milk with melamine and cyanuric acid.

So, what began as strictly a pet food adulteration crisis, ended up bleeding into the human sector where adulterated infant milk formulas sickening an estimated 300,000 children.

In 2011, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report which warned the FDA to address economic adulteration and strengthen its regulatory and enforcement policies. The GAO study highlighted the 2007 pet food recall causing an unknown number of illnesses and deaths to dogs and cats.

Notably, the melamine contamination case helped to inspire the enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act on January 4, 2011, which included mandatory preventive controls and established new safeguards to prevent intentional adulteration of food products.

Yet, here we are, years later, and FDA has largely forgotten that it was the tragic death of thousands of beloved cats and dogs caused by the intentional adulteration of a pet food ingredient that prompted the birth of FSMA.

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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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