Pre-emptive strike: jerky pet treat makers agree to $6.5 million fund

Jonel Aleccia of NBC News reports that two of the biggest makers of jerky treats blamed for deaths and illnesses of thousands of pets in the U.S. have agreed to create a $6.5 million fund to compensate dog owners who believe their animals were harmed, according to terms of a settlement in a class-action lawsuit announced Friday. Purina PetCare Co. and Waggin’ Train LLC reached an agreement with pet owners in several states who were seeking redress for what they claimed was suffering and death of pets who ate chicken and other jerky treats made in China.

If approved, the settlement would also require Nestle Purina Pet Care Co. to undertake “enhanced quality assurance measures” regarding pet treats made in China and to modify language on its packaging.

In announcing the settlement, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, neither party admitted fault.

“Neither Waggin’ Train, Nestle Purina nor any of the consumers concede that their claims or their defenses were not valid,” lawyers for the parties said in a statement. “All parties entered into the agreement only to bring the litigation to a prompt and certain resolution.”

The move comes two weeks after federal Food and Drug Administration officials said that pet treats, mostly imported from China, had been linked to more than 1,000 deaths in dogs, more than 4,800 complaints about animal illness and, for the first time, sickness in three people who ate the products.

Last week, two large pet supply firms, PetSmart and Petco announced they would no longer sell jerky treats made in China.

Pet treat mystery: more dogs dead, 3 people sick, FDA says

Pet jerky treats, mostly imported from China, are now linked to more than 1,000 deaths in dogs, more than 4,800 complaints about animal illness, and, for the first time, sickness in three people who ate the products, federal health officials said Friday.

Bone-JerkyBut, according to JoNel Aleccia of NBC News, U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials say they still can’t identify a specific cause for the reported illnesses or deaths, despite seven years of testing and investigation.

“The agency continues to caution pet owners that jerky treats are not required for a balanced diet and encourage them to consult with their veterinarians, both prior to feeding treats and if they notice symptoms in their pets,” FDA said in a statement.

The humans who consumed the treats included two toddlers who ingested them accidentally and an adult who may have been snacking on the questionable products, which include chicken, duck or sweet potato jerky treats, an FDA official said.

“The agency continues to caution pet owners that jerky treats are not required for a balanced diet and encourage them to consult with their veterinarians.”

One of the children was diagnosed with a salmonella infection, which can be spread by touching contaminated pet food and treats. The other child developed gastrointestinal illness and fever that mirrored the symptoms of dogs in the house that also ate the treats. The adult reported nausea and headache, said Siobhan DeLancey, an FDA spokeswoman.

The agency has received about 1,800 new reports of illnesses and deaths since its last update in October, some involving more than one pet. The numbers now include 5,600 dogs and 24 cats. 

No answers, but jerky treats back in stores as pet mystery lingers

JoNel Aleccia of NBC News writes that two of the top-selling brands of jerky treats for pets will soon return to U.S. store shelves, a year after a nationwide recall and with government experts no closer to solving the mystery that has linked the products to hundreds of animal deaths and thousands of illnesses.

Nestle Purina Pet Care officials say they’ll reintroduce a line of Waggin’ Train treats for dogs starting next month, including products made from a Waggin’ Trainsingle supplier in China and new products sourced entirely in the United States.

“We’ve worked hard to put in place the highest quality controls in the dog treat industry,” Waggin’ Train President Nina Leigh says in a promotional video.

And Del Monte Foods Corp. officials said they’ll resume selling Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky Strips and Chicken Grillers Recipe treats in March using U.S.-sourced meat.

Federal Food and Drug Administration officials told NBC News they know about Nestle Purina’s plans and have reviewed them, but they said the company doesn’t need special permission, known as pre-market approval, to reintroduce the treats. And they said they couldn’t discuss the review.

That’s despite repeated FDA warnings that consumers should avoid jerky pet treats after the agency received reports that since 2007, nearly 600 pets, mostly dogs, have died and 4,500 have been sickened after eating chicken, duck and sweet potato products made in China. That figure is up by 900 reports since October.

The move drew immediate criticism from veterinarians, pet owners and animal advocates, who said it wasn’t clear exactly what changes, if any, the companies made to the products, and that they were worried their return to market would only sicken more pets.

Florida veterinarian Sofia Morales, who has treated at least three cases of Fanconi syndrome, a serious illness linked to the treats, said she would want to see results of clinical trials in pets showing that the revamped products were safe.

“Right now, what I’m recommending to people is not to feed jerky,” she said.

Jerky makers have consistently said there is no proven link between their products and the pet poisonings. FDA officials have not demanded recalls because they have no proof of contamination.

Nestle Purina officials said they have made “significant enhancements” to the Waggin’ Train production process, including limiting meat sourcing to single suppliers and requiring that each batch of treats be tested for a range of contaminants, including salmonella, melamine, di-ethylene glycol and antibiotics, as well as heavy metals, pesticides and mycotoxins, or molds.

It’s like marketing microbial food safety: the best companies will abandon the soundbites and provide actual data, in this case verification data, that their products are safe. Until then, it’s just marketing BS.

21 sickened from pet treats; NH salmonella outbreak linked to dog jerky; source found using science, teamwork and questions

How did health officials figure out that the salmonella bacteria that hospitalized more than a dozen people around Nashua and Concord, New Hampshire, this summer came from the same source – dehydrated chicken sold as dog treats?

Science, teamwork and questions. Lots of questions.

“We have a questionnaire we give to every salmonella case that we investigate. It asks about 30 food items,” said Beth Daly, chief of infectious joeysjerkydisease surveillance for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

“If we know that they are potentially part of a cluster of cases, we give them a much longer questionnaire – 12 pages – that asks about several hundred food items. And from there, once you have a hypothesis, you might need to administer a third questionnaire,” she said.

David Merrill, of Nashua, knows this firsthand.

“The city called me – a nurse, I think. She asked me a series of questions like where did I eat and what foods did I have, did I buy anything from a farmer’s market, have I eaten lettuce, things of that nature,” Merrill said. “Lots of questions.”

Merrill, 76, was hospitalized for five days in late August with salmonellosis caused by bacteria he picked up on his hands while handling Joey’s Jerky treats, dehydrated chicken meat. He had bought the product for more than two months and fed it to the family’s two Havanese dogs, Mulligan and Patches.

“I feed the dogs treats – when my daughter isn’t looking,” joked the retired software developer, who has fully recovered.

The treats were voluntarily recalled Tuesday by their maker, an in-home company called Kritter’s Kitchen Kreations in Loudon, after state health officials found that 21 people who became sick from salmonella had all bought the product. More than half those people were hospitalized.

Tests confirmed Wednesday that the treats were the source of the salmonella.

“The most likely reason is that the jerky was under-processed; the dehydrator didn’t kill the bacteria,” said Beth Daly, chief of infectious disease surveillance for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

FDA says 500 dogs killed by jerky treats

JoNel Aleccia of NBC News reports some 500 dogs and nine cats may have died after eating chicken jerky pet treats made in China, according to updated complaints logged by federal veterinary health officials.

A new tally of reports filed with the Food and Drug Administration shows the agency has received 2,674 reports of illness involving 3,243 dogs, including 501 deaths. The agency also has received reports of Purina-Waggin-Train-Yam-Good-Treatsnine illnesses in cats, including one death, the FDA said.

That’s up from an estimated 2,200 reports of illness, 360 dog deaths and one cat death reported last summer. So far, though, FDA has not been able to confirm a link between the treats and the ailments. 

The new figures come less than a week after two of the largest retailers of pet chicken jerky treats issued voluntary recalls of several popular brands after New York state agriculture officials detected unapproved antibiotics in the products.

Nestle Purina PetCare Co. recalled its popular Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch brand dog treats, and Del Monte Corp. officials recalled their Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky and Chicken Grillers home-style dog treats from shelves nationwide.

Do companies really need babysitters? China stiff-arms FDA on jerky pet treat testing, reports show

It’s sometimes fun to jibe at health types – local, state, federal – but they have a tough job and I’d be lousy at it.

JoNel Aleccia of NBC News reports Chinese government officials overseeing plants that make chicken jerky pet treats blamed for thousands of illnesses and deaths among American dogs have refused to allow U.S. inspectors to collect samples for independent analysis, newly released records show.

Investigators with the federal Food and Drug Administration came away empty-handed after conducting April inspections at four jerky treat manufacturing sites in Liaocheng and Jinan, China, according to the records.

The plants make pet treats sold by the St. Louis-based Nestle Purina PetCare Co., including the popular Waggin’ Train jerky brands.

Chinese officials stipulated that FDA officials could collect samples only if they agreed to specific conditions, including a requirement that the samples be tested in Chinese-run laboratories.

As a result, “no samples were collected during this inspection,” wrote Dennis L. Doupnik, an FDA investigator who visited the sites.

In addition, the reports showed that the Chinese plants conducted either no laboratory tests or only sporadic tests of the raw materials, including meat used in treats fed to many of the 78.2 million pet dogs in the U.S.

But where’s the company at the center of some 2,000 pet illnesses, Nestle Purina? Hiding behind government, although the company makes the profit.

Elizabeth Mawaka, 57, a Hartford, Conn., woman who says her two Boston terriers, Max and Toby, died after eating tainted treats, got it right when she called on Nestle Purina to demand that samples be released to the FDA.

“It really comes down to the company,” said Mawaka, who is suing jerky treat makers and retailers. “We can talk all we want about China, but it’s really the company.”

However, a Nestle Purina spokesthingy said the inspections demonstrated no problems with the firm’s products, no evidence that they’ve led to illnesses in animals in the U.S., and that the terms of the inspection were set by the U.S. and Chinese governments, not by Nestle Purina or the manufacturing site officials.