Sunday, January 11, 2009

FDA and DogsWell Breathies Chicken Treats for Dogs: More pro’s and con’s of information sharing on the Internet

Yesterday I wrote a comment about the pro’s and con’s of pet nutrition related information sharing on the Internet. Coincidentally it just so happened that at the same information on today’s topic came across my desk. On 12/22/08 in my comment FDA Continues To Receive Complaints about Chicken Jerky Products for Dogs and Cautions Consumers I reported that the FDA had e-mailed a “Preliminary Animal Health Notification” issued on 12/19/08. In it the FDA continued to caution consumers of a potential association between the development of illness in dogs and the consumption of chicken jerky products also described as chicken tenders, strips or treats. Apparently and in it’s own words “FDA continues to receive complaints of dogs experiencing illness that their owners or veterinarians associate with consumption of chicken jerky products. The chicken jerky products are imported to the U.S. from China.” Though the incident appeared to be concerning Australian products and products available in Australia on the Australian market, as a precaution addressed the issue of Chinese imports entering the American market. I mainly did so since we carry DogsWell products at our store and wanted to assure everybody that there was no problem with those products, though they are imported from China as well. Back then, at the same time when I published my comment on this blog, the president and CEO of DogsWell had posted an official company statement regarding that exact same issue on his company’s website clearly defending his company and products of such wrongful accusations.
According to the latest news we have now available his letter was not coincidental. As it turns out now, the FDA’s concern about the problems in Australia had triggered an entry refusal for a shipment coming in from China containing a lot of the DogsWell Breathies Chicken Jerky Treats. The FDA in its official refusal report stated “Salmonella contamination” as reason for the entry refusal. According to the FDA violation code, Salmonella is a charge to be applied if “The article appears to contain Salmonella, a poisonous and deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health.” In my, plain English books, salmonella is
Now let’s look at the subsequent events occurring over the past few days:
On 01/06/09 Susan Thixton (of whom I am a great fan and who I consider to be one of the most knowledgeable and unbiased authorities in the field of pets and mainly pet nutrition) reported, appearing very excited and concerned, on the FDA’s entry refusal: “Dogswell/Catswell Breathies Treats stopped at customs for Salmonella”. In her comment she refers to the FDA’s entry refusal report, quotes from the DogsWell FAQ web page some quality control related facts stated by DogsWell and criticizes that to her it does not appear as if DogsWell is telling a true story. To Susan ‘s credit I have to say that it appears to me as if she was forwarded the entire story by a third party, as she thanks that party at the end of her comment.
Since we are entering a great danger zone here I would suggest that, though there is some sort of urgency in order, we first do some due diligence and really start investigating the true facts. And for Susan, please stick to your slogan “Learning the 'truth' can save your pet's life!” In this case not the pet’s life but certainly it would have helped to avoid some damage being done to not just DogsWell as a pet food manufacturer but also DogsWell’s retailers, like for example us. Since the story is being circulated on the Internet, just the past 3 days we must have received about a good 3 dozens of inquiries from concerned pet owners. There is no question that these pet owners have a right to be and should or even must be concerned. But let’s face it, the damage is done (mainly due to the FDA action, but also to some extent by the Internet) and the name DogsWell for a long time will be affected by a negative after taste and sales will certainly be impacted.
But let me finish my story. Guess what? Yesterday my highly admired Susan published this new comment: “FDA’s at it again; Update on Breathies Dog/Cat Treats Salmonella Report”. In this latest update she sets things straight. As the entire story finally unfolds, DogsWell’s CEO has now provided evidence that the treats did NOT test positive for salmonella. Visit the DogsWell website for the complete wording of his official statement as well as for a downloadable copy of the independent lab analysis report. According to him, “DOGSWELL participates in standard FDA evaluations on a regular basis. In August of 2008, a sample was taken from a shipment of 49 cases of BREATHIES Chicken Jerky treats and tested by the FDA. During this random sampling there was a documented error in the FDA lab that led to inconclusive test results. In order to protect our customers, and most importantly the dogs and cats that love our products, at that point, we placed all 49 cases of DOGSWELL BREATHIES Chicken Jerky treats from this shipment on hold in our warehouse. All cases are accounted for and the treats will continue to be held until the FDA openly declares them fit for consumption. During this time, DOGSWELL reached out to Cornerstone Labs in Tennessee, a lab that uses only FDA and APPA approved methods, for our own private testing of the same sample in question. All tests came back negative for any salmonella, melamine, and other harmful bacteria and pesticides. … In addition, DOGSWELL products have never come back with a positive test for any salmonella, melamine, bacteria or pesticides although we continue to test each and every shipment. We began a lengthy legal process to have the FDA re-test the product under evaluation. In response to our many requests for information or discussion, the FDA has recently posted a refusal of container notice on the FDA Oasis website. This is not a recall notice. This is simply a recommendation that the product under evaluation be destroyed or shipped overseas instead of continuing the evaluation. DOGSWELL has requested several times that the product be re-tested. All 49 cases of BREATHIES Chicken Jerky treats are available to test. Unfortunately, the FDA has failed to respond. We will continue to keep you up to date with our testing, standards and procedures.”
Ooops, bummer! Susan’s reaction: “It appears the FDA is up to manipulative games again.” And she talks about other incidents where the FDA’s very own way of handling matters caused problems, such as for instance last year’s “tomato nightmare” taking place in Florida and costing Florida’s tomato farmers millions of dollars due to a mistake made by the agency. Well, I can see a similar scenario developing here in this case, maybe the damage doesn’t reach the millions mark, but there will be damage. Unjustified and unrecoverable.
If you ask the FDA, here is a taste of what you are probably going to get as a reaction: Lizzy, the owner of our on-line pet food store and my wife needs to take a certain medication. She is always purchasing it through a Canadian on-line drug store simply due to the fact that they are way more affordable. Nothing wrong with that and I even don’t want to know how many Americans are purchasing their medications the same way. The other day, when I got the mail, there was a letter from the FDA. My first worry was that this would be something concerning our pet food business, so contrary to my principles of not opening mail addressed to any other family member but myself, I couldn’t help it but to open the letter. It turned out the FDA had confiscated her latest shipment on the border coming from Canada. When she contacted the FDA’s office she was told: ”We have to do this following our orders. Randomly we pick out packages and confiscate them because we have to. We are not at all concerned about the drugs you are purchasing from abroad, we do not have the time to deal with this since we have way bigger fish to fry.” To me this almost sounds as the same statement may apply to the refused lot of DogsWell products. I guess the agency’s employees felt obligated to confiscate the lot because their employer just more recently had published a warning advisory. But, as Susan rightfully says: “what the FDA did to this company is inexcusable. The FDA has such incredible power to destroy a business, destroy families, destroy lives in the blink of an eye…”.
Well, that’s our government at works. Slow and flexible as a rock. It always has been this way and, though I am always trying to be an optimist, I believe in this case it will never change. Susan hopes with our new Commander in Chief taking office in a few days there will be changes forthcoming. I doubt it.
As to DogsWell importing product from China, a move heavily criticized by not just many pet owners but also by Susan (“Mr. Giannini received an 'ear full' on this topic from me via email. You play with fire long enough, you are going to get burned.”), I tend to somewhat agree with what Mr. Giannini apparently told Susan: "We don't have a position as to where it comes from, as long as it is humanely processed, it is safe and healthy for the dogs and cats that eat the foods." Just F.Y.I., everything goes both ways. Recently there also have been reports of possible problems with American imports in China causing health problems (watch for a separate comment). People, let’s get used to it, there is no more way around any products completely or partially not coming from China. We live in a global environment. Our government owes billions to China, there is your number one reason for this. Number 2 is, make US originated agricultural products more affordable and companies like DogsWell probably will consider them. Have you been at the grocery store lately and checked the prices for American grown sweet potatoes? It’s like you’re buying caviar. It is all a question of the bottom line and in this case it appears to be coming out better with Chinese imports. Otherwise, the already pricey, yet extremely well received and among pets and pet owners very popular dog treats will become no longer affordable.
And finally, I think at this point I can rest my case about the pro’s and con’s of information sharing on the Internet. I believe by now everybody should realize how easy it is to get wrong and misleading information, get information too hasty or too slow. Like I said yesterday, take everything (including what I say) with a grain of salt, investigate and make your own and well educated decisions. But stay tuned anyway, I have yet more to say on this topic. And of course, as always I like to hear how you think about it.

No comments: