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China: A source of concern when it comes to our pets

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Since 2007, we’ve seen an increasing number of illnesses in pets associated with the consumption of jerky pet treats.  As of September 24, 2013, the FDA had received more than 3000 reports of pet illnesses, including 580 deaths, which they believe are related to consumption of jerky treats.  And if the trend itself isn’t disturbing enough, it appears that most of these products are being sourced from China, yet we continue to allow for their import.
 
The FDA – you know, the agency that is supposed to protect us from consuming dangerous things – issued a report acknowledging that this is an issue, but has refused to take more definitive action.  
 
All talk.  No action.
 
So, here’s the conundrum.  Pets are getting sick and many are dying.  The FDA knows the source – jerky treats imported from China -- but they won’t recall the products, much less ban their import.  So how many deaths are too many?  What’s it going to take for someone to act responsibly?
 
For now, the FDA has put the onus on pet owners by “urging them to use caution with regard to jerky pet treat products.”  Hello FDA, isn’t this your job?  According to Wikipedia,
 
“The FDA is responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the regulation and supervision of food safety, tobacco products, dietary supplements, prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs (medications), vaccines, biopharmaceuticals, blood transfusions, medical devices, electromagnetic radiation emitting devices (ERED), and veterinary products.
 
So, we ask ourselves . . . what’s the rub?  Why isn’t the FDA doing more to protect our pets?
 
Not everyone can have a clear conscience.
 
I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Bennie, founder of Clear Conscience Pet, who had quite a bit to say about this matter. 
 
According to Bennie, jerky products manufactured in China are a problem that dates back to 2007; however, at that time they were overshadowed by the massive canned food recall.  My question to him was if they were willing to recall the tainted canned food, why the reservations to recall these jerky treats that are killing our pets?  His belief is that because there is no direct evidence connecting these illnesses and deaths to a culprit ingredient, they are willing to deliver a warning, but not issue a recall. 
 
And Bennie asked his [rhetorical] question.  Would the FDA being treating this situation in the same manner if these products were killing our [two-legged] children?  According to Bennie – and I believe most pet owners would agree, - “The ethics of what we put into the mouths of animals should mirror the ethics of what we put into the mouths of our children.”
Clearly, the FDA disagrees.
 
So, what’s really going on here? 
 
That’s certainly a fair question. Could it be political?  Do we not want to disrupt our relations with the Chinese by banning the import of these products? Do we fear the potential repercussions?
 
According to Bennie, more than 6 million pounds of pet-related products are imported monthly (down from 7 million) from China.  And along with these products there’s clearly a price to pay.  But it seems the only ones paying the real price here are our beloved pets. 
 
“The government has power to effectively put a stop to this problem, said Bennie, but they won’t. They are reaching out to veterinarians and other industry experts looking for more information, rather than stopping the problem at its source.” 
 
Knowledge is Power
 
We encourage people to read the labels on human food products, so why not take the same precautions with what our pets consume?  I asked Bennie if he could provide some general direction on what we should be looking out for when reading pet-food labels. 
 
“First and foremost, look for ingredients that are not familiar to you.  And if it’s something that would cause you to pause before eating human food, assume it’s something your pet shouldn’t be consuming either,” said Bennie.  “And if you don’t recognize an ingredient, ask questions.”
 
“It’s a real shame,” says Bennie.  “The natural pet food industry has worked very hard to create better choices for our pets and this includes treats.  For the FDA to say that treats are not a necessary part of a fully balanced diet is baffling to me.   Why tar the entire industry simply because the FDA chooses not to protect all of us in the most obvious way?” 
 
So what’s a pet owner to do?
 
Education is key.  Read pet-food labels with the same care and concern you would human-food labels.  And ask questions, because the more you know, the better prepared you will be to provide proper care for your pet. 
 
And most importantly, take your pet to the vet immediately if they demonstrate any of the following signs:
 
·      Decreased appetite
·      Decreased activity
·      Vomiting
·      Diarrhea, potentially with blood
·      Increased water consumption
·      Increased urination
 
 
 
 
 
Credit: By Hope Schultz for WebVet
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