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Poisonous Pet Treats from China? I’m Shocked! Shocked, I Tell You!

We've seen repeated warnings for contaminated treats made in China or with ingredients sourced from China. When will we learn?

 |  Nov 6th 2013  |   4 Contributions


Warnings have been sounding about contaminated jerky treats from China for quite a while now, but it was only in the last week or so that those warnings have attracted national attention. About 580 dogs have died from eating the treats; and since 2007, 3,700 dogs and 10 cats have become very sick from eating jerky treats. The FDA still has no idea what poison is involved in the illness, but it’s definitely been sourced back to those China-made jerky treats.

Although the latest recall is more focused on dog treats, some cats also eat jerky treats and have been sickened by the contaminated products. Puppy and kitten by Shutterstock

This is not even close to the first time poisonous food from China has sickened and even killed numerous beloved pets. The first incident I remember was the melamine-tainted Nutro pouched food debacle of 2007. At the time I fed my cats Nutro pouched food -- and when I went to check the pouches I had, some were from the contaminated lots!

Suffice it to say, I’ve never bought a Nutro product since then.

But even some “premium” foods and treats are made in China or with ingredients sourced from China. A very popular glucosamine-chondroitin treat is made in China, for example, as is one flavor of one premium frozen raw brand. Those products have never been associated with recalls or contamination. But the fact that they are made in China, where food safety regulations are, shall we say, just a wee bit less stringent than even the ridiculously lenient food safety standards here in the U.S., definitely inclines me not to buy those products.

Of course, these brands bend over backwards to reassure customers that their China-based factories are run well and with only the highest safety standards. That may be true, but “made in China” is still a red flag for me. Also, I don’t see why, for example, the manufacturer of the frozen raw food can’t have a rabbit farm in the U.S. or Canada. It’s not as if rabbits don’t exist here in North America, and it’s certainly not like they’re hard to breed!

"It's a pity that rabbits are so hard to breed in North America," she said sarcastically. Rabbits in a cage by Shutterstock

After all the recalls and warnings, poisonings and deaths, when will we ever learn that we should not trust China-based manufacturing facilities to provide safe food?

Let me be very clear here that my problem is not with the people making the food! These people are working hard and trying to earn a living and doing the best they can with what they’ve got. My problem has nothing to do with xenophobic fantasies of piles of filth in foreign factories and crap like that. My problem is with lax or even nonexistent regulatory structures to prevent toxins from getting into foods and with the businesses that insist on importing ingredients or foods because they’re “cheaper.”

Sure, the ingredients may be less expensive if they’re produced in China -- or any other country where whatever safety regulations that exist are viewed as mere suggestions -- but the cost to us, the pet lovers of America, is much too high.

Of course, American and Canadian manufacturers aren’t immune to safety problems. Just look at Diamond Pet Foods and Natura Pet Foods (including Innova and EVO) recalls of 2012 due to possible salmonella contamination.

So what can we cat parents do? Keep our eyes and ears open for information about recalls. Read the ingredient lists for the foods and treats we give our cats. If the label indicates that it’s made outside the U.S. or Canada, you might want to think twice about buying it.

What can cat food and treat manufacturers do? Remember that once confidence in your brand has been destroyed, it’s very hard to get it back. Consider very carefully if the risk of importing ingredients is worth the short-term cash savings.

What do you think? How do you feel about safety issues in pet food and what do you think is at the core of those issues? Am I just crazy for being worried about this stuff? Have your cats ever been sickened by tainted food? Sound off in the comments.

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, professional cat sitter, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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