The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing more stringent guidelines on animal food safety, following a wave of jerky-linked deaths that appears to have culminated in the demise of close to 600 animals, since 2007.
The organization aims to introduce preventative measures to guarantee protection of all animal foods from harmful bacteria, chemicals and contaminants. Under the new proposals, which are yet to be concretely pinned down, food products that are given to both companion animals and livestock will need to be deemed safe for consumption.
In light of this, the FDA has put forward the Preventative Controls for Food for Animals. According to an FDA statement, this is reported to be the fifth rule the FDA has proposed this year, and is a part of a bid to ensure greater food safety, as envisaged in the 2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, designed to circumvent the dissemination of food-borne pathologies.
Improving Animal Food Safety and the Benefit to Humans
Director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, Daniel McChesney, Ph.D., explains there to be an obvious discrepancy in the way that animal and human foods are regulated:
“Unlike safeguards already in place to protect human foods, there are currently no regulations governing the safe production of most animal foods. There is no type of hazard analysis. This rule would change all that.”
Although unsafe and contaminated animal food products primarily affect domestic pets and livestock, McChesney elaborates further on the safety implications for humans. He explains that human and animal health are related to one another. For example, human beings can become sick when handling pet food that is contaminated with Salmonella, which
can lead to salmonellosis, presenting as abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever and vomiting. Handling and preparing these bacteria-riddled animal foods can spread Salmonella across kitchen surfaces, leading to cross-contamination with human foods.
Likewise, another example cited involves the consumption of dioxin-contaminated feed by livestock. Dioxin is a chemical pollutant capable of accumulating within the fatty tissues of animals. According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that 90 percent of all human exposure is caused by consumption of contaminated meat, dairy and seafood products. Dioxins are highly toxic compounds and have been known to cause reproductive, developmental and immunological problems, as well as cancer.
Ultimately, by ensuring the safety of food products that are distributed to both livestock animals and domestic pets, human beings also stand to benefit from the FDA’s new proposals.
The Safety Plan
The FDA briefly discusses the necessary regulations that would center around addressing “… the manufacturing, processing, packaging and holding of animal food.” In terms of improving manufacturing practices, the organization mentions the following rudimentary recommendations:
- Appropriate cleaning and maintenance of facilities
- Pest control
- Protocols to guarantee the personal hygiene of employees
The new guidelines would also govern the need for a food safety plan for all facilities involved in the manufacture of animal foods. In addition, companies would be tasked with the identification and correction of potential hazards, with these processes periodically monitored.
McChesney indicates that this ruling is very similar to the Preventative Controls for Human Food rule, which was proposed earlier this year. However, he notes some key differences between the two. Since animals face different hazards to human beings, the new proposals will be animal-centric. For example, the new proposals will not focus upon allergens, as animals tend not to experience the deadly allergic reactions to foods that humans face. On the other hand, some contaminants that are tolerated by humans, but not animals, are set to face much greater scrutiny (e.g. aflatoxin).
The new proposals will focus upon delivering a better balance of nutrients to animals. Human beings receive vitamins and minerals from a diverse array of food sources. In stark contrast, animals will typically acquire such nutrients from only a few, limited sources. If a particular food product does not encompass all of an animal’s required nutrient intake, they are unlikely to be able to subsidize their dietary intake from elsewhere.
Under the new proposals, if manufacturers ultimately failed to act, the FDA could send out warning notices, alert the public to ongoing safety concerns, seize animal food products, and even prosecute offending facilities.
A Wave of Animal Deaths
The FDA is responding to a wave of deaths over recent years, alleged to have been caused by contaminated animal treats. Specifically, illness has been witnessed in 3,600 dogs and 10 cats, with the incidents linked to jerky pet treats throughout the United States, as reported by the FDA in a consumer update. So far, at least 580 of these pets have died since
The cause of these deaths remains unknown. However, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) has conducted over 1,000 tests and are seeking expert advice from prominent academics in the field. In addition, the organization has made trips to facilities that manufacture the pet treats in China.
In attempting to establish the cause of these deaths, the FDA is calling upon affected consumers and veterinarians to make contact. CVM Director Bernadette Dunham, Ph.D., explains that the cause of the outbreak is one of the most mysterious she has ever encountered, before going on to describe the hard work that her staff are putting in to establish the cause of these deaths:
“Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it.”
According to the New York Times, the proposal also comes six years after one of the most notorious pet food recalls in history, after a Chinese manufacturer was found to be distributing animal food products that were contaminated with melamine. Melamine is a compound that is often mixed with formaldehyde to generate melamine resin, a thermosetting plastic. The incident spurred on greater regulation of animal food products in the Food Safety and Modernization Act.
Meanwhile, the FDA’s proposals remain open to the public for welcome comment. No doubt, these stringent guidelines on animal food products will be met with applause from concerned pet owners.
By: James Fenner