I recently was asked to comment on the pet food contamination tragedy that occurred back in 2007 (seems hard to believe it was that long ago), and I realized that I hadn’t kept track of what was going on with the resulting class-action lawsuit. After doing a bit of research, I found a great article on the VIN News Service detailing the final outcomes. The information just became available this month.
But first, for those of you who don’t remember the details of this crisis, here’s an overview: In 2007, reports of dogs and cats unexpectedly going into kidney failure started to rise. Intensive investigations led by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) eventually revealed that suppliers in China were adding melamine and cyanuric acid to wheat gluten and rice protein concentrates that were subsequently used to produce pet foods. The suppliers did this to make the wheat gluten and rice protein appear as if they had higher concentrations of protein than they did. The combination of melamine and cyanuric acid in dog and cat foods led to crystals forming in pets’ kidneys, kidney damage, and in some cases kidney failure and death.
The melamine/cyanuric acid crisis led to the biggest pet food recall ever, affecting foods and treats made by twelve manufacturers. A criminal case was brought against the U.S. importing company CHEMNutra, Inc., and last year the owners pled guilty to distributing adulterated food and selling misbranded food.
Many owners filed lawsuits in response to their pets’ illnesses and deaths, and these were ultimately consolidated into a single class-action case that was recently settled for $24 million dollars. About half of the settlement went to pet owners and the rest to the more than 80 lawyers involved in the case and to cover expenses. This resulted in most owners receiving about half of their approved claim, which is not unusual for a class action lawsuit.
In all, 25,601 claims were submitted and 20,229 were approved. In more than half of the cases (13,242) the animals died, while another 9,001 became ill but survived. The rest of the claims either involved animals that were brought in for testing but did not become sick, or owners who did not indicated their pets’ condition. These numbers surely only represent a portion of the total number of animals that were affected by the tainted foods.
About the only good news to come out of the whole 2007 pet food recall is the recent establishment of the Pet Event Tracking Network, or PETNet, by the Food and Drug Administration. According to the FDA, the goal of this web-based information exchange system is to "allow FDA and Federal and State Agencies to share initial information about pet-food related incidents, such as illness associated with the consumption of pet food or pet food product defects. PETNet’s voluntary information exchange, surveillance and alert system is designed to provide a real-time mechanism for sharing information about emerging pet food related illnesses and product defects between FDA, other Federal agencies, and the States."
PETNet is currently made up of over 200 representatives from four Federal agencies, all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Hopefully, it will help prevent a tragedy like the 2007 pet food recall from ever occurring again.
Dr. Jennifer Coates