Pet Food Recall Roulette: Vigilance is Key
The phrase “trust, but verify” was made famous by Ronald Reagan in 2008. It was used during negotiations with the Soviet Union, most famously in the context of signing a nuclear arms reduction treaty. Politicians understand that the way facts are presented can often obscure the true intention of an announcement or agreement.
Taking pronouncements at face value may not present the full story, and can often lead to complications. History has shown that a bit of due diligence will serve your cause better than blind trust.
So it is with pet food recalls. How do you know if you’re getting the full set of facts? Should you be concerned every time a recall is announced?
So your pet food has been recalled. Now what?
Pet food recalls are issued with increasing frequency these days. It’s unusual to go longer than one month without hearing about some sort of pet product recall. Fortunately, pet food recalls are not as common as human food and product recalls, which are issued practically daily!
When a recall is issued, our instinct is to think of the worst case scenario. The pet food recall of 2007, the largest in history, raised awareness for many who previously did not concern themselves with this sort of thing. That all changed when pets began dying and food was removed from store shelves at an alarming rate.
But just because a recall is issued, it doesn’t mean that the worst is about to happen.
If you have a trusted retailer who monitors these things for you, that can be an excellent source of information. But it may not reach you in a timely manner.
I trust the pet store I use. Isn’t that enough?
A trusted relationship with a pet shop can be invaluable during a recall. Since your pet’s health may be at stake, it’s useful to understand how to get independent confirmation of just what a recall involves. Your shop may, or may not, be the best way to do this.
Most shops are too busy to be proactive about monitoring recall notifications, particularly when it is first issued. They normally rely on receiving notification from their suppliers. This notification starts with the manufacturer, moves to suppliers and reps, and then gets passed along to retailers.
When a shop receives word of a recall, their responsibility is to get food off the shelf, not contact customers who may have purchased it. If your shop does contact you directly, consider yourself very fortunate. By relying exclusively on your shop, you may find that you’re first hearing of a recall from the media, or from sources other than your shop. It then falls to you know where to look for more information.
Fortunately, the internet provides a wealth of these sources. You just have to understand what to look for and how to evaluate it. Manufacturer websites, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) websites, and trusted pet blogs all do a reasonably good job of getting the word out about a recall. Or do they?
Why would a manufacturer issue a recall?
There are a variety of reasons that a pet food manufacturer would issue a recall. Production, ingredients, storage or transport issues can all be factors. Depending on the severity of the reason behind a recall, a manufacturer may choose not to widely publicize the news.
Most manufacturers are responsible enough to issue a press release or make mention of a recall somewhere on their website. Especially if the FDA requests that they do so. But if it is a limited recall affecting a small production run in just one part of the country, chances are you may never even hear about it.
So why doesn’t the FDA issue recalls?
Since the FDA is a regulatory agency, it does not have the power of enforcement. Legally, it can request a manufacturer to issue a recall, but can not compel it to do so. The FDA can, and does, pressure a manufacturer to issue a recall if there is reasonable cause.
As a result, you may be more likely to see reports of problems leading to a recall, or a recall notice itself, on the FDA website before it appears on a manufacture’s site. New legislation has strengthened the FDA’s regulatory powers, which may lead to limited enforcement ability in the future.
While it can be incomplete, the FDA site usually contains the most current publicly available information.
How reliable is the information posted on pet blogs and websites?
A third source of information can be pet-related websites like chat groups, blogs and breed clubs. Much of the information found here can be hearsay, depending on the source. It’s important to recognize the difference.
There are a few reliable websites which are dedicated to tracking and publicizing recall information. Some take an objective view of their work, while others are very opinionated. Whichever you choose to frequent, it’s always a good idea to get confirmation of a recall report before treating it as fact.
I heard that a “limited recall” has been issued. How do I know if it really affects me?
Practically all recalls are issued as “limited”. This provides a manufacturer wiggle room when new information arises. It simply means that not everything made by the company is included in the recall. Future announcements may add new products to the original announcement.
If your formula is affected, but not the specific production run of your bag, you get to make a judgement call. In this case, your food has technically not been recalled. But it is not unusual for recalls to expand. This is where knowing where to check for more details becomes invaluable.
With reliable information from your retailer or trusted websites, you can quickly determine whether your particular formula, production run or size is affected. It’s important to keep your pet food bag so you can check any information contained in a recall announcement.
If the recall is a labeling issue, it often means a minor ingredient has been omitted or added in a larger proportion than intended. This typically is not a cause of concern.
If you are seeing any unusual signs from your pet, or if you have any reservations about continuing to feed that food, switch to something else. It is not worth sacrificing your peace of mind, or your pet’s health in the event that the recall does expand. Once a recall expands, it’s time to pay more attention. This can be an indication that the situation is heating up.
So the recall is serious. What now?
If you’ve confirmed that your food is affected, and the recall is serious, it’s time to act. Immediately stop feeding the food to your pet, and return it to where you bought it. The store should accept the food and issue you a credit, refund or exchange with no questions asked.
If you trust your retailer, they should be able to provide you with some alternatives which are similar to what you’ve been feeding. Even better, they may be able to contact you once your recalled food is available to safely feed once again.
Ask about the reasons behind the recall, and what signs you should look for in case you pet has a reaction to tainted food. Each recall can carry its own set of symptoms, depending on the reasons which led to it. These symptoms will normally be publicized on the manufacturer and FDA sites, along with the recall announcement.
If you see your pet exhibiting any of the symptoms related to recalled food, contact your vet immediately. Be sure to let them know you suspect the condition is related to the recall.
I thought I was feeding a good food. Will this new food get recalled?
Feeding a good quality food reduces, but does not eliminate, the possibility of a recall. Accidents can, and do, happen.
With the globalization of ingredients sourcing, and contract production of pet food, manufacturers no longer have the same degree of control over their products that they once had. This shift in production process brings an increased risk of problems, which can affect even better quality foods.
Give yourself some peace of mind when a recall is issued
Understanding why your favorite food was pulled during a recall can help avoid more problems. You’ll be in a better position to judge whether a new food can be affected in the same way. And you’ll have found resources that can confirm or debunk any additional news that may affect your pet’s well being.
After all, it’s your pet. And no one will be looking out for your pet’s health and safety more than you!