Why the FDA posts some recalls and ignores others; more recall madness explained

I'm going to pretend I didn't just hear that

I’m going to pretend I didn’t just hear that

NOTE: This priceless article was recently discovered found aimlessly wandering in my WordPress Drafts folder, just waiting to be published. Pay no attention to the dates of the recalls, but do note that after one year the same problems exist and the lousy treats still remain on the market today. 

More than a week has passed [January 2013] since Milo’s Kitchen, Waggin’ Train, Canyon Creek Ranch, Cadet and Publix brands announced recalls of their contaminated pet treats, yet only one of the recalls has materialized on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) website: Milo’s Kitchen. Why was Milo’s on there, while Nestle-Purina escaped without a scratch?

After inquiring about the discrepancy, the FDA told Susan Thixton of Truth About Pet Food that:

When a company makes the decision to withdraw a product from the market for a non-safety issue, that company can decide to supply FDA with information…or it cannot supply FDA the information.

In Nestle-Purina’s case, had the FDA received the information, they could have reviewed it, made a decision on whether it warranted a recall and if so classified the recall. If FDA does not receive information regarding the removal from market it has nothing to base a decision on regarding a recall.

The madness of recalls

In this case, Milo’s Kitchen did supply the FDA with information and the FDA determined it supported a Class lll recall – the lowest level. Nestle-Purina, on the other hand, chose not to supply the FDA with information. Further confusing the issue, was the Agency’s explanation to Susan that they had nothing to base a decision on regarding a recall because:

…in this case it was NYSDAM that tested the products, not FDA.

Grocery store notices, NOT

Under Section 211 of Food Safety Modernization Act amended section 417 of the FD&C Act requires FDA to generate one-page notices from Reportable Food Registry reports to post on www.fda.gov for grocery stores to display to consumers where a reportable food was sold.

But, only Class l recalls are considered a reportable food, and because the FDA does not believe the contaminated treats laced with drugs are likely to cause a health concern, they do not rise to the level of a Class I recall.

Further communication between the FDA and Susan regarding this discrepancy revealed the difference lies in the classification of the type of recall:

As a general rule, FDA only requires press releases for Class I recalls…

The actions taken by Del Monte and Purina [and now IMS Trading, which has also withdrawn Cadet jerky treats from the market] were not Class I recalls.

Reasonable probability

Just what the heck is a Class l Recall and a Reportable Food?

Bear with me now — Section 417 of the FD&C Act defines reportable food as an

…article of food (other than infant formula or dietary supplements) for which there is a reasonable probability that the use of, or exposure to, such article of food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.

Who decides what is a “reasonable probability”?

Each decision is considered on an individual case-by-case basis. Ultimately, the final decision rests with the Commissioner of FDA, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, whose responsibility it is for administering the FD&C Act, including section 417.

No notices. No nothing.

Had the Commissioner decided that there was a “reasonable probability” that the use of, or exposure to, the treats would cause serious adverse health consequences or death to a cat or a dog, consumers might have seen one of the notices posted prominently in stores that sold the treats, both online and in stores.

Shopping in the dark

Grocery store notices provide an another tool for consumers contemplating purchasing any brand of pet treat to pause, and consider whether that was a risk they were willing to take. However, without that information, consumers, and the beloved pets they shop for, are denied the opportunity to decide for themselves whether they are purchasing a potentially high-risk product.

More brands are expected to be withdrawn from the market as testing continues, but until that time shoppers are left in the dark.

Repeat after us

While drug residues in poultry from China aren’t raising red flags for the FDA, veterinarians around the country advise pet parents to steer clear of jerky treats until the FDA definitively determines what is sickening pets. Pet food safety advocates, such as Susan Thixton and I, continue to warn consumers to avoid purchasing such treats for your pets.

Special Note: I want to give special thanks my valued friend and colleague, Susan Thixton of TruthAboutPetFood whose insight, opinion and the emails she received from the FDA helped me complete this story.

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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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