Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for the past few years, you’ve no doubt heard about animals becoming ill after eating chicken jerky treats made in China. More than 5,600 dogs, 24 cats, and most recently three cases of human illness have been linked to ingestion of these products. Over 1,000 dogs have died. According to the FDA, about 60% of cases involve gastrointestinal tract illness, 30% involve the kidneys, and 10% include a variety of clinical signs. The majority of complaints involve dried chicken jerky, but other items have been implicated, including dried sweet potatoes or yams and dried duck.
Multiple brands of treats are involved, and the common thread in the investigation is illness following ingestion of a jerky treat, mostly imported from China. To date, the FDA has not made a firm conclusion about the cause of these illnesses and deaths. The FDA and outside labs are testing for things like heavy metals, Salmonella, pesticides, antibiotics, antivirals, mold and mycotoxins, rodenticides, kidney-damaging chemicals, endotoxins, and other compounds.
No Mandatory Recall
As a result of not having found the smoking gun, the FDA has not issued a mandatory recall for any of these products. In January 2013, and Nestle Purina and Del Monte voluntarily recalled several chicken jerky treat products, as a result of the state of New York finding trace amounts of antibiotic residue in tested products. The companies reported that these treats are safe to feed to pets, but that they were recalling them because the antibiotics identified are not allowed for use in poultry in the U.S.
Settlement Announced This Week
In the news just this week, Nestle Purina and Waggin’ Trains (a wholly owned subsidiary of Nestle Purina) agreed to create a $6.5 million fund for pet owner expenses related to ingestion of chicken jerky treats prior to the voluntary recall in early 2013. The company admits no guilt in this settlement, which still has to be approved by a judge. Perhaps most importantly, the company agrees it will use a single-source supplier for meat in its treats, it will perform rigorous testing in the manufacturing process, and it will include bold labels on each product about where it originated.
I Still Feel Troubled
Here’s the thing: Nestle Purina has jumped back into the market with Waggin’ Train. Not too much of a surprise, I guess, since in 2010 the brand earned them $200 million in sales. A $6.5 million compensatory fund is kind of chump change compared to this. When I look at the Waggin’ Train website, I see that two types of chicken jerky treats are being made in the U.S., and one type is being made in China. Purina says it has greater access to white chicken meat in China, since dark meat is preferred there, and that is the reason they continue to manufacture treats in China. The website states they have implemented additional testing at both U.S. and Chinese manufacturing locations. It also states that chicken jerky treats from China are irradiated prior to shipment to the U.S. because of the additional transit time.
The scrutiny Purina has placed on its manufacturing process p-r-o-b-a-b-l-y means that its treats are safer than others being manufactured in China. Still, as pet owners we all take a risk when we feed chicken jerky treats, especially those made/sourced in China, to our pets. The FDA and multiple veterinary organizations recommend limiting (if not excluding) these treats from pets’ diets, since there is no nutritional requirement to include them.
I sincerely hope none of you pet parents has had a bad experience with chicken jerky treats. My heart hurts for those people and pets who have been harmed by something that was supposed to be a “treat.” I strongly encourage you to check labels on the products you are feeding, and if you aren’t sure about a product, do some additional research before you purchase it. Remember, companies are not currently required to list a country of origin for each raw material that goes into a product. Don’t be afraid to call or email a company, asking for more information!