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Vets advise avoiding toxic treats while Purina tells them it’s all lies

Veterinarians were advised by Nestle-Purina on what to tell their clients

In April, Nestle Purina sent a letter to about 20,000 veterinarians nationwide, asking them to share “accurate, fact-based information” to counter what it called “inaccurate and misleading information” about chicken jerky treats, that can only be described as a slick corporate spin job:

Dear Doctor:

Like you, we are pet owners and pet lovers, and we understand how important pets are in our lives. So when we say that the safety and quality of our products are our number one priorities, it’s not just a promise – it’s a fact.

Recently, we’ve seen some inaccurate and misleading information about chicken jerky treats for dogs, including the Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch brands, which are owned by Nestlé Purina PetCare Company, circulating in the social media, on-line and in traditional media reports…

Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch are among several brands that have been implicated by name in FDA complaints and whose chicken jerky has been blamed for the illness and death of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dogs are under pressure to pull their products have resisted issuing a voluntary recall despite an ongoing FDA investigation.

The letter continues:

…This can create alarm with pet owners who are understandably concerned…

But it’s not just consumers are who are alarmed, veterinarians are concerned as well; a veterinarian haunted by the memory of euthanizing a once vibrant dog who developed kidney failure in April after eating chicken jerky has seen first hand the devastation warns clients to avoid them at all costs.

Nestle-Purina’s letter to vets goes on to say:

…We know that you are often the first person a pet owner will call with a concern related to the health of their dog. That’s why it is important that we share accurate, fact based information with you so that you can confidently and accurately discuss it with your clients should the need arise. We have prepared the following information for you to read and share as needed…

Meanwhile, the number of complaints is skyrocketing, surpassing 600 in the first 5-1/2 months of this year alone. The FDA has received about 1,300 complaints total since 2006, according to Laura Alvey, a spokeswoman for the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Yet, despite these figures, Purina urges vets to sell consumers on the safety of their pet treats from China:

…We’ve developed five discussion points to help answer questions and reassure a concerned client if needed. Feel free to share this sheet with your clients who want more information…

The agency is continuing an intensified investigation, including stepping up surveillance of shipments of chicken jerky treats from China and scheduling inspections of five Chinese production facilities known to produce chicken jerky imported to the United States. The findings of which have yet to be released. Alvey, in response to questions about the inspections, said: “We are limited in the information we can make public, as the investigation is active and ongoing.”

Purina’s “talking points”:

…FACT #1: The FDA has extensively tested chicken jerky treats and has not found any contaminants, nor a definitive cause for reported pet illnesses…

By forestalling negative publicity by publicizing a favorable interpretation of the absence of a definitive cause for the illnesses as evidence that the product is free of any contaminates is optimistic at best, at worst it is a subterfuge used to deceive consumers. Statements such as, “they were tested for a wide variety of substances and no contaminant has been found” are misleading in that they imply that while none has been found to date; therefore one does not exist or will ever be found.

…Fact #2: Waggin’ Train routinely tests these treats as part of a comprehensive food safety program. As part of that program, each lot of Waggin’ Train brand dog treats is tested for salmonella, melamine and ethylene glycol…

Trouble with that is, that neither Salmonella or melamine (alone) are nephrotoxic, making two out of three of those tests irrelevant to the discovery of the cause of acute renal failure or the explanation for the sudden appearance of a once rare genetic disease called Fanconi syndrome now an acquired disease regardless of a genetic predisposition.

…FACT #3: Millions of happy, healthy dogs enjoy chicken jerky treats every year…

But many dogs are not happy or healthy, in fact a great many have died after being fed chicken jerky. Why some dogs are affected and others are not is not immediately apparent. Some dogs may develop problems later. There is no specific timeline that a contaminated product follows, nor is it possible to know the consistency with which the product is contaminated. There are many factors that influence the progression of disease, all of which may not fully be understood until the investigation is completed.

FACT #4: Waggin’ Train brand chicken jerky dog treats are made in China…

Does it really matter what reason they give for manufacturing in China? It is unlikely that many consumers would appreciate any justification for manufacturing in China, as consumers have been highly wary of pet foods and ingredients produced in China ever since unscrupulous manufacturers in that country were discovered in 2007 to have deliberately spiked certain ingredients with melamine and cyanuric acid prompting the largest recall in U.S. history and was responsible for the illness and death of tens of thousands of pets.

.FACT #5: Waggin’ Train chicken jerky treats for dogs are safe to feed as directed. To date, there has not been a recall of Waggin’ Train products.

Sincerely,

Jorje Quinn
Vice President, Nestle Purina PetCareVeterinary Business

Yet online petitions for recalls of treats made in China have gathered tens of thousands of signatures, and while the FDA continues its investigation, the agency has repeatedly stated that there is nothing preventing the makers from voluntarily recalling the treats out of an abundance of caution.

Sources:

Veterinarians advise avoiding chicken jerky dog treats
Nestle Purina’s letter sent to 20,000 vets on April 19, 2012

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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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