Successes and failures in responding to the recalls of pet food were the subject of a panel at the AVMA Annual Convention in July. The recalls also were the topic of a panel during the June forum of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
Earlier in the year, ingredients from China that contained adulterants went into pet food in the United States. The manufacturers of the pet food, starting with Menu Foods, issued recalls after finding an association with renal disease. The situation has contributed to calls for more resources to ensure the safety of foods and imports.
The AVMA panel began with Marc Ullman, JD, discussing crisis communication. He said the foremost rule is to tell the truth. One of Ullman's clients is ChemNutra, which imported some of the ingredients containing adulterants.
Dr. Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said the FDA is no stranger to controversy—but this situation caught everybody off guard.
Menu Foods called the FDA on a Thursday evening. The agency sent inspectors the next day and began tracing the ingredients. Laboratories could not immediately find the adulterants, and soon everyone was asking how many animals had died.
"We tried to be as open to the media as possible," Dr. Sundlof said. He added, "People were very upset and panicky."
Dr. Kimberly May, AVMA assistant director of professional and public affairs, described how the AVMA Communications Division responded to the recalls.
"We went out of our way to make sure that anything that went on our Web site was verified," Dr. May said.
The AVMA faced logistic issues because Menu Foods announced the first recalls on a Friday evening. The AVMA couldn't reach affiliate organizations quickly. Later, when the AVMA e-mailed members, it couldn't reach some members because of a lack of e-mail addresses.
Rick Weiss, a Washington Post reporter, described how the newspaper slowly realized the magnitude of the story. Steve Dale, a columnist and radio host who reports about pets, decried the misinformation on some Web sites.
Duane Ekedahl, executive director of the Pet Food Institute, said the recalls were complex. Menu Foods manufactures many brands, and the FDA found that other U.S. manufacturers also received ingredients from China that contained adulterants.
The effects of the adulteration might be long-lasting, for better and for worse.
"We are seeing some chronic renal disease with this," said Dr. Saundra Willis of the ACVIM and the AVMA Council on Communications. She added, "I think we're going to benefit from this in all of our food being safer."
Dr. Barbara Powers, president of the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians, said veterinary laboratories need more funding in the future. No funds were available for some of the tissue analyses.
Dr. Robert Poppenga of the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory described how his laboratory helped develop tests for the adulterants. He said his is the only veterinary toxicology laboratory in the Food Emergency Response Network.
Panelists at the ACVIM forum also discussed their knowledge of the recalls and how the situation has affected the veterinary community. The panelists were Drs. May, Cathy Brown of the University of Georgia, Denise Elliot of Royal Canin, Dru Forrestor of Hill's Pet Nutrition, Claudia Kirk of the University of Tennessee, Paul Pion of Veterinary Information Network, Linda Ross of Tufts University, and Shelly Vaden of North Carolina State University.
The ACVIM has posted slides and the transcript of its panel at www.acvim.org. The AVMA is posting the audio version and transcript of its panel at www.avmamedia.org/library.asp.