On the heels of hundreds of pet poisonings linked to Chinese-made jerky treats -- and years after melamine-laced pet food from China killed pets of several species -- the FDA has issued a proposed rule that would create safety standards for pet food sold in the United States.
Some pet poisonings have been relatively easy to identify: melamine, a nitrogen-containing molecule used as a fertilizer, a component of plastic dinnerware, and a flame retardant, was found in Chinese-manufactured pet foods and pet food components. The ongoing jerky treat poisoning has been harder to nail down: although more than 3,600 cat and dogs have been sicked (and nearly 600 have been killed) by contaminated jerky treats, no single poison has been tagged as the culprit. One sample of jerky contained six different drugs.
What is unclear is how effective the proposed FDA action will be. After the melamine scandal broke, the FDA proposed the remedy of talking with Chinese bureaucrats: Michael Leavitt and Andrew von Eschenbach, who were at the time the HHS Secretary and the FDA Commissioner, met with Chinese officials in May 2007 and planned to meet again "to work out a plan to strengthen bilateral cooperation to help assure the safety of Chinese products entering the United States." Since that time, thousands of additional animals have been sickened by contaminated pet food, Asian honey that was banned in Europe has been sold in the United States, and questions have been raised about the heavy metal content of grains grown in China... not a roaring success, although the US managed to avoid importing (officially, anyway) the contaminated baby formula that sickened many Chinese babies.
What may be different this time is that the FDA is proposing to require pet food wholesalers to certify that their products are safe. The proposed rule, which is open for public comment for 120 days, "would require [pet food manufacturers', processors', packers', and distributors'] facilities to have a food safety plan, perform an analysis of potential hazards, and implement controls to minimize those risks." By putting the burden on companies selling pet food in the US -- even small and "very small" businesses, which will have one to three additional years to comply with the rule, if adopted -- the FDA hopes to ensure the safety of the pet food sold in this country.