Giant Banfield Reports Six Deaths So Far, Not Thousands; Sen. Durbin, Calls for Change


            The good news is that the incidents of reported cases of death and illness due to eating tainted pet food seems to have nearly diminished all together, according to the FDA and also the largest group of pet hospitals (with over 600 clinics throughout the country), Banfield, the Pet Hospital.

            Reports of confirmed pet death numbers are beginning to finally trickle out, as opposed to the ongoing rampant speculation by various sources.

            It turns out, according to Banfield, most of the animals who became ill as a result of the tainted food were cats, and most of them have – in fact – survived. “When their owners did promptly see their vet, it’s good news that most cats have come out of this okay,” says Banfield senior medical advisor Dr. Nancy Zimmerman. “Although, we have no way to know whether they will have any long-term affects.”

            Banfield, based in Portland, OR, keeps tabs of pretty everything in veterinary medicine with their unique data base. For example, Banfield reports there was a 30 per cent increase in pets who experienced either acute or chronic renal failure, from Dec. 1, ‘06 through March 6, ‘07. While this is certainly a red flag – a specific link to tainted food is unclear. 

            Beginning March 20 (five days after the Menu Foods announced the recall of nearly 100 brands), and continuing for three weeks, Banfield directly tracked pets thought to have become ill or have died as a result of eating tainted food. Pet owners d who brought their animals to Banfield clinics complained 1,605 pets who reportedly ate the recalled food, less than one per cent of total pets examined at Banfield hospitals in this time frame. Confirmed with an animal autopsy, five cats and one dog died as a result of the contaminated food. That number could rise somewhat as pathology reports continue to come in to Banfield.

            The good news is that reports of thousands of dying at Banfield hospitals as result of poisoned food is absolutely untrue. In fact, the numbers of pets deaths nationwide may turn out to be in the hundreds, not thousands – though the exact numbers may never be known. “Thankfully it doesn’t appear as though the death rate will be overwhelming numbers,” says Zimmerman. “But that doesn’t lesson the tragedy of this, especially if your pet was affected.”

            No matter what the ultimate death numbers turns out to be – the pet food crisis never should have happened according to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL).  On Thursday (April 12), he’s scheduled to hold an oversight hearing of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on what is being termed an “ongoing investigation” concerning the pet food industry, and specifically this instance of tainted pet foods.

            Durbin says, “I’ve seen this coming for a long time…I am concerned about pet food, but also concerned about our own food safety. The system is completely broken down. The FDA is like the fire department that’s only called after the house has burned down. They’re called when there’s a crisis. They should have been on the front end of this issue.”

            Durbin offers proposals for the FDA to take action on:

            1) Menu Foods, Inc. first noticed a potential problem with their pet foods in February but did not contact the FDA until March 15. Meanwhile, it’s likely pet food companies (who’s food was manufacture by Menu) had no idea there was a possible problem, and most certainly consumers had no clue.

            Durbin says potential problems should be reported immediately, and not doing so should carry “significant fines.”

            2) The Emporia, KS Menu Foods Facility, according to Durbin, had never been inspected by the FDA. The Federal agency has been relying on states to conduct inspections, but the FDA has jurisdiction and ultimate responsibility over all pet food manufacturing facilities. Durbin wants to require the FDA to work with states to establish standardized regulations and inspection requirements.

            3) Durbin says that the FDA typically receives around six thousand annual complaints on everything from microwave ovens to prescription drugs. Since the pet food crisis began, they’ve received over 11 thousand complaints. Durbin wants to direct the FDA to create an information sharing system which would allow veterinarians, pet owners and even food processors to communicate directly with the FDA.

            Among those testifying at the Senate hearing, Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, who once worked in the pet food industry, and is now private practice as a cat-only veterinarian in Yorba Linda, CA.  She says, “Pet food companies who make claims should have to prove them the same as companies who make the food we eat do. If a company doesn’t makes those sorts of claims, such as proving something simple like safety, then the consumer should know it – and make a choice to purchase the claimless products or those with proven claims. Let consumers drive the market. Listen, the problem of adulteration (of pet foods) has happened before. There is a problem out there.”