'Breaking news' on the pet food recall rankles
Friday’s news was interesting…Michigan State University put out its findings on their research into just how many cats and dogs had succumbed to an early death as a result of the chemicals that spawned the pet food recall. “How many?” you ask expectantly…
Wow. That’s more than the 224 number “US Health Officials” reported earlier this year. And that’s even more than the 16 the FDA reported back in the throes of the recall. At this rate, maybe we’ll have the real number sometime in the next century.
With a straight face, Michigan State University researchers reported they’d received a whopping 500 respondents to their call for cases. Of these, only 348 qualified for inclusion in the "final death toll" based on a strict criteria for kidney disease caused by the deadly combo of melamine and cyanuric acid. That’s 70% of their respondents. They also reported that most of the dead were found in Illinois and Michigan.
I haven’t been treated to a sight of this study, but I’d venture to guess that more than a few sampling errors might taint this supposedly “well-publicized” study. Because no one in their right mind and in possession of most of the facts in this case can possibly believe that of 17,000 early complaints only 348 cases met the criteria.
After all, how many of my cases were included in the Michigan study? None—although I had two likely ones. Why didn’t I report them? Two reasons:
1) Neither died as the result of our early ministrations.
2) I never heard about this study (though the AVMA had supposedly “got the word out,” according to the press).
So vets who attended to these cases early on might well have had no cases of death to report—we pulled them through. Those that attended to pets who died may never had known to report them. (Why else would the heaviest death toll occur in the state where the study took place and in nearby Illinois?)
Another couple of issues are also at play here: Vets were likely too busy to report after having reported to other agencies already. (I mean, puh-lease, how many times do you want us to get on the phone and fax records and suffer through this when we have to attend to the living!) And, finally, how about all those that may have died before, during and after and never had a chance to get noticed?—by less-than-attentive owners, cash strapped parents and inattentive vets (they exist, I’ll admit).
Reading about studies like this—especially when they get wide newsplay by Reuters, the Associated Press and the New York Times, among others—drives me crazy. How do supposedly intelligent, statistics-savvy media folk fail to raise questions with stories like this?
I read through six news reports and not one questioned the study. Instead, they all seemed to question the hypersensitivity of people like me for raising alarms and of people like you for caring enough to call the FDA when things didn’t seem right with your pets.
Thankfully, notable voices of dissent still abound when it comes to taking these numbers at face value. PetConnection.com, the Veterinary Information Network (whose 7,000-plus vets reported a far higher number of potential deaths and affected pets), and even Banfield (the national chain of more than 2,000 hospitals which reported a 30% spike in renal failure during the months of February through April) tell more of the truth than these paltry figures represent.
Sometimes, my profession just embarrasses me. Next time, I hope vet schools like Michigan State’s learn to qualify their numbers and report on statistical significance before calling their PR people. I mean, really…