New Data on Pet Food Recall Released; Veterinarians Emphasize Scope of Issue

Smaller pets — especially cats — bore the brunt of the pet food recall, which put a media spotlight on food manufacturing and import rules last spring, according to a new study. During the recall news frenzy — stirred by a growing number of reported cases that varied by source — veterinary toxicologists gathered data to discover why contaminants were killing pets. Professionals in North America pooled efforts and launched an online survey for veterinarians and assessed hundreds of cases, though some say that thousands of pets died and that tens of thousands of pets were affected. 

Veterinary researchers plan to publish results of data collected online this spring. Some of the data was presented at an October meeting of the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD), and Wilson Rumbeiha, DVM, PhD, DABVT, shared some new findings with NEWStat.

Rumbeiha, who spearheaded the survey and research at the University of Michigan with the help of AAVLD professionals and colleagues in Canada, said that while thousands of cases were submitted for review, only 29 percent or 348 entries made the cut. The voluntary survey, which was accessible online from April 5 through June 6, 2007, may not have captured all of the pets affected by the recall but it provides a basis for study, Rumbeiha said.

Paul D. Pion, DVM, DACVIM, president of Veterinary Information Network, who was quoted by consumer newspapers during the recall, praised the University of Michigan study but emphasized that readers should understand that this study applied the strictest academic criteria to defining a case. It is not an estimate of the total population affected.  Pion was concerned by recent coverage of the data in an article because — as he said — the data represents the tip of the iceberg and could be misinterpreted by the general public. A headline for the article read: “Vets [sic] Have Only Been Able to Confirm a Fraction of Claims.

As Pion said, “It’s important that people don’t try to rewrite history and minimize this. Several independent estimates suggest that tens of thousands of pets were affected but no one in the world is ever going to know [for sure].”

Criteria for the AAVLD study “was very stringent to make sure that these were true cases that could be verified,” Rumbeiha explained. The submissions represented 236 cats and 112 dogs that were affected — or died — from the contaminants, which were added to boost protein levels in food, according to reports. NEWStat ran a series of articles on the recall. AAHA members can access the articles online.