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Pet Food Recall: U.S. Senate Steps Up To Plate, Calls For Action

April 7, 2007 - Amy Jo Hanna-Eckenrode

I’m not a person who likes to belabor an issue to death, but I do want to be at a point where I am comfortable knowing the facts. With all of the uncertainties still surrounding the pet food recalls, I want to know exactly what steps are being taken at the federal level to ensure stricter inspections and regulations for manufacturers of these products. It is about time that the welfare of family pets is taken more seriously. I was pleased to find the following report from Sen. Durbin - IL. In fact, I wish I could say he (and Sen. Herb Kohn - WI) were my senators:


[CHICAGO, IL] - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today announced the U.S. Senate will hold an oversight hearing on the ongoing investigation and the regulatory mechanisms that govern the pet food industry as the widespread recall of contaminated pet food continues.

“Many cats, dogs and other pets, considered members of the family are now suffering as a result of a deeply flawed pet food inspection system,” said Durbin. “The FDA’s response to this situation has been tragically slow. Pet owners deserve answers. The uncertainty about what is safe to feed their pets has gone on far too long. I want to learn exactly when the FDA knew about the contamination, who is inspecting pet food manufacturing plants, and whether we need to force the FDA to update their regulations to protect our pets. Most importantly, I want to hear how the FDA is going to work to resolve the current crisis and ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Durbin, a member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, is working with Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), the Chairman of the Subcommittee, to schedule the hearing shortly after the Senate returns from recess next week. Hearing witnesses will include FDA officials who will be questioned on the timeline of the investigation, the source of the contamination, and the agency’s regulatory and inspection responsibilities. The hearing will also include outside experts who will discuss the current state of the pet food industry, as well as regulatory or resource shortfalls that led to the widespread recall of tainted pet food.

While the FDA is reporting 15 animal deaths due to poisoning, the agency has received more than 10,000 complaints over the last several weeks. Reports of the actual number of animal deaths due to tainted food vary widely from other sources.

Durbin is urging the FDA to take action in three specific areas:

Delay in reporting. Menu Foods, Inc. first noticed a potential problem on February 20, 2007 but did not contact FDA until March 15, 2007. In the meantime, other companies were selling tainted product and the supplier wasn’t aware that it had provided wheat gluten contaminated with melamine. Durbin wants companies that delay reporting to the FDA and endanger human and animal health to face penalties.

Lack of inspections. The Emporia, Kansas Menu Foods facility where many of these products were made had never been inspected by the FDA. The agency has been relying on the states to conduct inspections, but the FDA has jurisdiction over all pet food manufacturing facilities and the ultimate responsibility to ensure facilities comply with FDA standards. Where there should be federal regulation, there is instead a patchwork of state inspection systems and voluntary guidance. Durbin wants to require the FDA to work with the states to establish a standardized set of regulations and inspection requirements.

Incomplete data and reporting from the FDA. Blogs and nonprofit websites have filled a gap and become the most efficient way to share information on contaminations. Durbin wants to direct the FDA to create a similar information sharing system that would allow state veterinarians, pet owners and others to alert the FDA of possible contaminations.

* You can visit Sen. Durbin's website for more information or to send a brief email to thank him for stepping up to the plate for us.

* 4/8/07: Below I have added the names and website links for all of the Senators who sit on the subcommitte with Sen. Durbin.   Note: PA Sen. Arlen Spector is a committee member. I think it will be a good time to watch the actions of these members closely regarding this issue:

Subcommittee on
Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration,
and Related Agencies

Democratic Subcommittee Members:

Senator Herb Kohl (Chairman) (WI)

Senator Tom Harkin (IA)

Senator Byron Dorgan (ND)

Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA)

Senator Richard Durbin (IL)

Senator Tim Johnson (SD)

Senator Ben Nelson (NE)

Senator Jack Reed (RI)

Republican Subcommittee Members:

Senator Robert Bennett (Ranking Member) (UT)

Senator Thad Cochran (MS)

Senator Arlen Specter (PA)

Senator Christopher Bond (MO)

Senator Mitch McConnell (KY)

Senator Larry Craig (ID)

Senator Sam Brownback (KS)

I am looking for: