The FDA issued an alert Friday warning consumers to avoid feeding four brands of dog food contaminated with pentobarbital – a drug typically used to euthanize pets – manufactured by the J.M. Smucker company. The alert came hours after Smucker’s press release that four popular brands of dog food – Gravy Train, Kibbles ‘N Bits, Skippy, and Ol’ Roy – were being withdrawn from stores nationwide for contamination with sodium pentobarbital.
The FDA said they are “issuing this notice in order to make pet owners aware of the firm’s action.” The alert is reassuring, particularly as Smucker’s has been covertly withdrawing the affected product from stores in the last week after the catastrophic discovery – without informing consumers.
ILLEGAL + ADULTERATED DOG FOOD
Friday’s alert says the FDA’s evaluation of the testing of the dog food does indicate that pentobarbital was in indeed in the products and that the drug should never be present in pet food in any amount and as such the product is adulterated. To put a finer point on it, the detection of any amount of pentobarbital in pet food is a violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act—simply put, pentobarbital should not be in pet food.
While the FDA is investigating the matter to learn the “potential source and route of the contamination,” Smucker’s only attempt to salvage their eroding reputation is to point their finger at one of their suppliers, saying they’ve “identified the root cause to be a single supplier and a single, minor ingredient, used at one manufacturing facility.” Smucker’s offers no other explanation or apology, nor do they appear to be contrite or have any remorse for their failure to audit their suppliers, admitting only that they are “extremely disappointed that pentobarbital was introduced to our supply chain.”
SYMPTOMS OF PENTOBARITAL POISONING
While the amounts of pentobarbital are reported by the manufacturer and the FDA to be low enough not to cause serious problems, consumers should know what the effects of a euthanizing drug are on a pet. For anyone who has had to put their pet to sleep they have seen the effects, but for those who have not, the symptoms of pentobarbital poisoning are drowsiness, dizziness, excitement, loss of balance, nausea, nystagmus (eyes moving back and forth in a jerky manner) and inability to stand. Consuming high levels of pentobarbital can cause coma and death.
Meanwhile, the FDA is keeping track of reports of any pet illnesses connected with the drug contamination in these products and are carefully monitoring the situation as it unfolds. And consumers are encouraged to report any problems to the FDA immediately.
POSSIBLE SOURCES OF EUTHANIZED ANIMALS
Before any discussion of the possibility that euthanized pets are in pet food, pentobarbital is never used to euthanize livestock species – that means cows, pigs, chickens or any other livestock – ever. And since pentobarbital is heat-stable, the drug residue survives the rendering process undegraded.
The most likely source of the product is that it came from an independent render where controls are seldom in place. No one, particularly the rendering industry, will ever admit that pets could be in pet food. And although it is unlikely, it is possible considering the several accounts of its occurrence that have emerged over the years.
According to a government source:
“Independent plants obtain animal by-product materials, including grease, blood, feathers, offal, and entire animal carcasses, from the following sources: butcher shops, supermarkets, restaurants, fast-food chains, poultry processors, slaughterhouses, farms, ranches, feedlots, and animal shelters.”
On the rare occasion when the rendering industry discusses the subject of rendering pets, they assure the public that when pets are rendered, they are processed separately from livestock. They claim that the end product of rendered pets is used in fertilizers and not used for making animal feed or pet food. Despite their reassurances, the logistics of separating livestock from pets would be impractical and cost prohibitive. Therefore, I believe that in some instances the animals are co-mingled.
SPECIES ANALYSIS TESTING
Since the pentobarbital finding, consumers have been panic-stricken over the mere possibility that dead pets could be in their pet food. And not since a former president of AAFCO unwisely admitted Fluffy could be in Fido’s dinner, have consumers been in such distress.
The difficult task now facing Smucker’s and the FDA is determining the species responsible for the contamination. It may make little difference to consumers which species of pets are responsible – whether it was cats or dogs or horses – but for the company to salvage any remnant of their reputation, without knowing the species, consumers will assume that the product came from the most unimaginable source: Animal shelters. Unless Smucker’s can point definitively to which species died as the result of euthanasia, no one can be certain that it wasn’t from dead dogs and cats.
HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
This is not a new subject, in fact, over 20 years ago, the FDA – after hearing anecdotal reports that sodium pentobarbital wasn’t working like it used to, the agency began to wonder if pets were becoming immune to it because they were being exposed to it from some other source. That’s when the FDA thought it might be in pet food.
In 1998, and again in 2000, the FDA tested a number of dry dog foods and found that the very same drug that was found in Smucker’s dog foods 20 years ago in some of the very same pet foods being taken off the market today – including Gravy Train, Kibbles ‘N Bits, and Ol’ Roy. The results of the study, which is documented in Dog Food Samples Used in CVM Pentobarbital Surveys and Analytical Results, reveals the results of the analysis which showed the presence of pentobarbital in many of the same brands still on the market today. While the study is not representative of the pet food market today, the FDA concluded that:
“There appear to be associations between rendered or hydrolyzed ingredients and the presence of pentobarbital in dog food. The ingredients Meat and Bone Meal (MBM), Beef and Bone Meal (BBM), Animal Fat (AF), and Animal Digest (AD) are rendered or hydrolyzed from animal sources that could include euthanized animals.”
Based on the findings, the agency wanted to know where the drug was coming from so they conducted species analysis testing on the dog food. To do that they developed a test based on the assumption that the origin of the pentobarbital was from euthanized dogs and cats or horses. But the trouble with their test was, it couldn’t identify any of the species they thought was responsible for the contamination.
Despite the failed testing, and because the FDA found only “very, very low levels” of sodium pentobarbital – parts per billion (PPB) – in the dog foods, they decided it was a risk they were comfortable living with. As the agency did not believe it posed an immediate danger to pets, saying that it is “unlikely to cause them any adverse health effects,” the agency decided did not take a position to eliminate euthanizing drugs from pet foods and animal feed. However, it’s worth noting that pentobarbital in any amount – even in PPB – is illegal in pet food.
Until more testing is done, the source of the animal species responsible for contamination in pet food will never be discovered. And consumers will assume the worst, that it comes from euthanized dogs and cats.
FALLOUT FOR THE PET FOOD INDUSTRY
The suspicion that pets are in pet food has to be the pet food industry’s worst public relations nightmare. And thanks to the Smucker’s discovery, it has brought the frightening topic back to life – prompting pet food manufacturers across the industry to scrutinize their suppliers, realizing that unless they inspect and analyze every incoming ingredient, they might see their business go down in flames as well.
No one can say for certain what the fallout will be after the Smucker’s debacle, but one thing is clear, is that this event will forever change consumer perception about the entire pet food industry – not just Smucker’s or Big Heart. This event, like few others in the industry’s history, will cause consumers to look at the industry with renewed mistrust and deep skepticism. Perhaps consumers will move away from mainstream brands and trust only smaller, human grade, boutique brands. It may even cause them to abandon buying commercial pet food altogether and start making their own.
GUILTY OF NEGLIGENCE
The problem facing Smucker’s is that in order to restore any modicum of consumer trust, they’re going to have to prove they’re not guilty of negligence. Which, so far has been to blame their supplier, isn’t going to be an excuse that consumers are likely to buy. Nor should they. Smucker’s will have to convince consumers why they should put their faith back into a company whose failure it was to have even the most basic safeguards in place. Without those assurances and safeguards in place, consumers – wisely – will be unlikely to have confidence in their products ever again.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU BOUGHT THE FOOD
Obviously, consumers should not feed their pets the withdrawn lots of J.M. Smucker pet food. And consumers who purchased these products should dispose of the cans or contact the firm for information about returning the product. However, consumers may wish to consider, that if they dispose of the food, they may also be inadvertently disposing of any evidence should their pet become ill. They may need to keep a sample in order to determine if the food was indeed contaminated. Pet owners who think their pets may be ill from eating food contaminated with pentobarbital should contact their veterinarians and save the pet food – do not throw it away.
KERFUFFLE OVER LIST OF WITHDRAWN DOG FOOD
A word of caution – the withdrawn products listed on the FDA site are a tad different from the ones listed on Smucker’s site, but the FDA is aware of the discrepancy, and they have indicated they plan to post an update as soon as one is available; saying that the agency has “become aware of reports of other products also subject to withdrawal” and have they have asked Smucker’s for clarification. This list, posted on the FDA website, only lists 18 of the 27 products that are on Smucker’s website. I will post any updates to these lists as soon as new information becomes available.
FDA LIST OF CONTAMINATED DOG FOOD (2/16/2018)
|Product Name||UPC Item Code(s)|
|Gravy Train 13.2-oz with T-Bone Flavor Chunks||7910052541|
|Gravy Train 13.2-oz with Beef Strips||7910052542|
|Gravy Train 13.2-oz with Lamb and Rice Chunks||7910052543|
|Gravy Train 22-oz with Chicken Chunks||7910051645|
|Gravy Train 22-oz with Beef Chunks||7910051647|
|Gravy Train 13.2-oz with Beef Chunks||7910034417|
|Gravy Train 13.2-oz with Chicken Chunks||7910034418|
|Gravy Train 13.2-oz Chunks in Gravy Stew||7910051933|
|Gravy Train 13.2-oz Chicken, Beef & Liver Medley||7910051934|
|Gravy Train 13.2-oz Chunks in Gravy with Beef Chunks||7910034417|
|Kibbles ‘n Bits 13.2-oz Burger Bacon Cheese and Turkey Bacon Vegetable Variety Pack 12-Pack||7910010377,
|Kibbles ‘n Bits 13.2-oz Beef, Chicken, Vegetable, Meatball Pasta and Turkey Bacon Vegetable Variety Pack||7910010382, 7910048367, 7910010378|
|Kibbles ‘n Bits 13.2-oz Beef, Chicken, Vegetable, Burger Bacon Cheese and Beef Vegetable Variety Pack||7910010380, 7910010377, 7910010375|
|Kibbles ‘n Bits 13.2-oz Wet Variety Pack||7910010375,
|Kibbles ‘n Bits 13.2-oz Chef’s Choice Bistro Tender Cuts with Real Beef & Vegetable in Gravy||7910010375|
|Kibbles ‘n Bits Chef’s Choice Bistro Tender Cuts with Real Turkey, Bacon, & Vegetable in Gravy||7910010378|
|Kibbles ‘n Bits Chef’s Choice Homestyle Tender Slices with Real Beef, Chicken & Vegetables in Gravy||7910010380|
|Ol’ Roy Strips 13-oz Turkey Bacon||8113117570|
|Skippy 13.2-oz Premium Select Cuts in Gravy with Beef & Bone Marrow||7910071860|
|Skippy 13.2-oz Chunks in Gravy with Beef||7910050250|
|Skippy 13.2 oz Premium Strips in Gravy with Beef||7910050245|
SMUCKER’S LIST OF CONTAMINATED DOG FOOD (2/16/2018)
|Item Name||UPC Item Code(s)|
|Gravy Train 13.2 oz. with T-Bone Flavor Chunks||7910052541|
|Gravy Train 13.2 oz. with Beef Strips||7910052542|
|Gravy Train 13.2 oz. with Lamb and Rice Chunks||7910052543|
|Gravy Train 22 oz. with Chicken Chunks||7910051645|
|Gravy Train 22 oz. with Beef Chunks||7910051647|
|Gravy Train 13.2 oz. with Beef Chunks||7910034417|
|Gravy Train 13.2 oz. with Chicken Chunks||7910034418|
|Gravy Train 13.2 oz. Chunks in Gravy Stew||7910051933|
|Gravy Train 13.2 oz. Chicken, Beef & Liver Medley||7910051934|
|Gravy Train 13.2 oz. Chunks in Gravy with Beef Chunks||7910034417|
|Kibbles ‘N Bits 13.2 oz. Burger Bacon Cheese and Turkey Bacon Vegetable Variety 12-Pack||7910010377
|Kibbles ‘N Bits 13.2 oz. Beef, Chicken, Vegetable, Meatball Pasta and Turkey Bacon Vegetable Variety Pack||7910010382 7910048367 7910010378|
|Kibbles ‘N Bits 13.2 oz. Beef, Chicken, Vegetable, Burger Bacon Cheese and Beef Vegetable Variety Pack||7910010380 7910010377 7910010375|
|Kibbles ‘N Bits 13.2 oz. Wet Variety Pack||7910010375
|Kibbles ‘N Bits 13.2 oz. Chef’s Choice Bistro Tender Cuts with Real Beef & Vegetable in Gravy||7910010375|
|Kibbles ‘N Bits Chef’s Choice Bistro Tender Cuts with Real Turkey, Bacon & Vegetable in Gravy||7910010378|
|Kibbles ‘N Bits Chef’s Choice Homestyle Tender Slices with Real Beef, Chicken & Vegetables in Gravy||7910010380|
|Skippy 13.2 oz. Premium Select Cuts in Gravy with Beef & Bone Marrow||7910071860|
|Skippy 13.2 oz. Premium Select Cuts with Burgers & Cheese Bits||7910050243|
|Skippy 13.2 oz. Premium Chunks in Gravy with Smoky Turkey & Bacon||7910050246|
|Skippy 13.2 oz. Premium Chunks in Gravy with Beef & Chicken||7910050247|
|Skippy 13.2 oz. Premium Chunks in Gravy 3 in 1 Chicken, Beef & Liver||7910050248|
|Skippy 13.2 oz. Premium Chunks in Gravy Chunky Stew||7910050249|
|Skippy 13.2 oz. Premium Strips in Gravy with Chicken||7910050244|
|Skippy 13.2 oz, Premium Chunks in Gravy with Beef||7910050250|
|Skippy 13.2 oz. Premium Strips in Gravy with Beef||7910050245|
|Ol’ Roy 13.2 oz Turkey Bacon Strips||8113117570|
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