|Despite consumer concerns, pet food safety ultimately begins at the manufacturer and marketer level.
“No pet food industry participant then in business will ever forget the Great Pet Food Recalls of 2007, which encompassed over 100 pet food brands and resulted in the deaths of thousands of dogs and cats,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts.
In the aftermath of the recalls, stringent new pet food safety initiatives were signed into law, including authority for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to order mandatory product recalls, Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) for all animal feed facilities, more frequent plant inspections, and a zero-tolerance policy for pathogenic bacteria. Packaged Facts’ research reveals that the 2007 recalls caused pet owners to trend up to pet food varieties they considered to be safer, such as those marketed on claims like natural, organic, limited ingredient, human-grade, Made in the USA, free-from China-sourced ingredients, non-GMO, and “clean.” As a result, sales of such products surged, and most continue to outperform regular pet food.
Despite the improvements and the upgrades, more than ten years later the pet food market still faces safety concerns due to contaminants such as Listeria, Pentobarbital, and Salmonella, among others. Ironically, the most recent wave of recalls involved not a pathogenic bacteria, but rather an oversaturation of vitamin D—an essential nutrient for dogs that in large doses can be toxic or even fatal.
“There’s no doubt that stricter government oversight has shed a spotlight on issues that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. But there’s still clearly an opportunity to do better,” says Sprinkle.
In December 2018, the FDA issued an alert to pet owners about food from eight different pet food brands that potentially contained toxic levels of vitamin D. The alert has only continued to expand during the first two months of 2019.
On January 31, Hill’s Nutrition, which specializes in the types of prescription and specialty pet foods that consumers increasingly traded up to after the 2007 recalls, became the latest brand added to the list. The company voluntarily recalled over 20 different varieties of canned dog food from its Hill’s Prescription Diet and Hill’s Science Diet lines for excessive levels of vitamin D.