Vet student Megan Watland offers her own thoughtful analysis of the most recent turns in the pet food recall.

Cabezalana wonders what happened to his Saturday. The latest updates in the food recall played a part:

As you might imagine, this ratcheted up the general hysteria and our poor receptionist was nearly in tears trying to keep up with all the phone calls from panicked people who decided that we must have some special insider knowledge. Because we manufacture the foods ourselves in our spare time, of course.

T.J. at dogscatskidslife offers a thoughful commentary about the pet food recall. He sees problems with the anecdotal reports of pet deaths. For one, how many pets that have died had undetected illness before ingesting tainted pet food?

There are many pet owners who do not seek medical care for their pets at the first onset of their symptoms. Either they simply ignore the symptoms, believe that it is a passing malady, or just don’t pay enough attention to their pets to notice the symptoms, until they are pointed out to them by news reports, mass hysteria and fear.

(My own observations from my wife’s practice support this point, although I’d add a cat-specific reason pet owners don’t seek veterinary care soon enough: cats are experts at hiding symptoms of illness. Combine that with the difficulty of observing gradual changes in a pet you see every day, and you have a recipe for cats becoming severely ill before their owners notice. That’s why we recommend all cats be seen twice a year for physical exams—or any time owners notice a change in sleep pattern, vocalization, bad breath, grooming, weight, food and water intake, urination/defecation, or behavior.)

T.J. also makes a point that catmanager had been thinking about:

I began to think about contaminants that are probably present in all of our foods. Foods that we eat every day.

Let’s say we took a food product off of the shelf at our local grocery store. Any product would do, just pick one. And let’s say we sent it to a toxicology lab and tested it for every known toxin possible.

How do you think that final report would read?

I think we would be very surprised.

Indeed. I think it’s important to remember, though, that our food supply today is (in general) much safer than at any time in human history. We might hear more about food poisonings and contaminated batches of food, but, as one researcher argues, “This trend . . . is essentially an artefact, whose significance is reduced if considered in its broader historical context.”

Dr. Khuly at the Dolittler blog appears to have been inspired by the latest AVMA-PLIT newsletter (“a self-serving tool for the insurance industry”? Oh, the synicism!) to write about veterinary professional liability issues.

We vets are not used to being hauled in front of lawyers and judges to defend the way we do our jobs—not yet, anyway. Increasingly, though, we’re forced to practice medicine as if we might be in that position with each and every case.

In some ways that’s good. It makes us careful in our record-keeping, more willing to consider diagnostics before treatment, and conscientiously detailed when securing consent from our clients. In other ways, it’s kind of depressing.

And that’s because we have to practice more defensively. This finds us thinking about clients in an different way, adhering to hard-and-fast protocols with less regard to our patients’ needs, and generally driving the cost of pet healthcare through the roof.

This post from Alexander Wilkas, a Realtor with “20+ years in quality Assurance for a major consumer products company,” bothers catmanager. Mr. Wilkas

  • refers to “the corn gluten used in the recent pet food recall”;
  • makes unsupported claims about nonexistent regulation in the pet food industry. Yes, I’d like to see more or different regulation, but to call it “almost nonexistent” and imply that the human food supply is significantly more regulated is simply wrong (“The Pet food industry is subject to the same regulation as the human food industry,” the FDA’s Stephen Sundloff said at last Friday’s FDA press conference);
  • claims that “Most companies spend very little on testing, since . . . ‘it’s only pet food,'” again without offering any evidence. Has Mr. Wilkas seen the testing budgets of Menu Foods, Hill’s, Purina, Royal Canin? Is he familiar with their QC protocols? Or is he just speculating?

I hate to be in the position of defending pet food manufacturers, but as Ohio State’s Dr. Tony Buffington has pointed out: we see far fewer recalls of pet foods than we do of human foods; and unlike most human foods, the majority (if not all) of pet foods are formulated by board-certified nutritionists to meet specific nutritional requirements (whether they are successful or pressured by corporations in their formulations is another matter). Are the makers of Twinkies, Doritos, and Big Macs formulating their products to meet the nutritional needs of human beings?

Changes are needed in the pet food industry, to be sure. PetConnection has made some excellent recommendations (here and here). Congress is (I hope) finally starting to pay attention. The FDA’s Sundloff has promised that his agency is looking at ways of preventing similar problems in the future. Things can and will get better, but that doesn’t mean they are currently bankrupt, as Mr. Wilkas’s post implies.

The Blog Pound catches an interesting—and confusing—story from the Toronto Sun.