For more than seven years, chicken jerky treats imported from China have been linked to death and serious illness in an unknown number of dogs on two continents – the U.S. and Australia.  The FDA recently provided more reports of pet illness and death believed to be related to the treats, but the cause of so much pet illness and death has yet to be discovered.  There are clues…clues that the FDA seems to be ignoring.  And the possible reasons why the FDA is ignoring these clues boils down to politics.

A few days ago, the FDA did a “data dump” of jerky treat consumer complaints.  Blogger and Food Safety Activist Phyllis Entis states “What can we learn from this list of 171 consumer complaints?  We can read about the pain and suffering – human as well as animal – that the mysterious jerky treat problem has caused.”  

The website FoodandWaterWatch.org – a consumer advocacy organization – has been watching Chinese chicken for about as many years as pet owners, though this organization has been watching Chinese chicken for different reasons.  FoodandWaterWatch.org has been watching Chinese chicken because of the political games being played at the risk to public (human)  health.  One of the FoodandWaterWatch.org folks recently shared a post on FoodSafetyNews.com titled “China Sneaks its Chicken in on Man’s Best Friend” – this story explains the political games that have been played – a Chinese chicken for U.S. beef swap game.  Through Freedom of Information Act requests, Food & Water Watch discovered U.S. government agencies tried to push through approval of Chinese imported chicken, despite poultry facilities in China failing inspection time and time again, to gain export approval TO China of U.S. beef.  (It is aVERY interesting read)

Poultry processing facilities in China have failed USDA inspection year after year, but…the FDA continues to allow Chinese chicken to be imported into the US for our pets.  Further, although the USDA has failed human food chicken/poultry processing facilities in China for many years – the FDA seems to have stated the jerky treat facilities in China have passed inspection (though FDA will not release their inspection reports of Chinese jerky treat facilities).  Can we really expect the dog jerky treat manufacturing facilities in China to be cleaner than human food processing facilities that have repeatedly failed inspection?

Veterinary Information News (VIN) has been reporting on the jerky treat situation since 2008.  In a December 15, 2008 article titled “Fanconi-like cases continue in Australia” VIN News stated (bold added)“Dr. Kendall Harr, a veterinary pathologist in Florida, said she has not seen or heard of recent cases, but had more than 100 at one point last spring. Harr reported in July in a Veterinary Information Network discussion that she was involved in phone calls that led the FDA to recommend voluntary removal of jerky treats from stores including PetSmart and Walmart.”

‘FDA to recommend voluntary removal of jerky treats from stores including PetSmart and Walmart?’  FDA might have told Dr. Harr they would ask for a voluntary removal of jerky treats from retail outlets such as PetSmart and Walmart, however to my knowledge, FDA has NEVER publically asked retailers to pull the Chinese imported jerky treats.  Thousands of consumers have asked retailers to remove the treats from store shelves – including me – but again…despite thousands of reports of sick pets in the U.S. – the FDA has not publically asked retailers to remove the treats out of precaution.

Dating back to 2007 (at least), Chinese chicken (and in recent months sweet potato and duck treats) are believed to be the cause of thousands of pet illnesses and deaths in the U.S and in Australia.  Interestingly, to my knowledge there have been no reports of pet illness or death linked to the same jerky treats of pets in Europe.  What does the U.S. and Australia have in common (besides the country of origin being China) with the treats?  Irradiation.

What is irradiation?  From Wikipedia.org “Food irradiation is the process of exposing food to ionizing radiation[1] to destroy microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, or insects that might be present in the food.”  Problem is, science has shown that irradiation does not successfully destroy all bacteria and can alter the foods treated.

From the OrganicConsumers.org website: “Studies on animals fed irradiated foods have shown increased tumors, reproductive failures and kidney damage. Some possible causes are: irradiation-induced vitamin deficiencies, the inactivity of enzymes in the food, DNA damage, and toxic radiolytic products in the food.”  Further, numerous websites mention FDA flawed studies on the safety of irradiation, one states “Public Citizen, the consumer group in Washington, concludes in an Oct. 2000 report that “the FDA legalized — and continues to legalize — food irradiation without testing it for safety.” 

Unlike the U.S., in Australia there was a recall of the Chinese imported jerky dog treats (these chicken jerky treats were treated with irradiation – similar to the treats in the U.S.).  KraMar Pet Company Pty Ltd. recalled its Supa Naturals Chicken Breast Strips in Australia and New Zealand.  KraMar Pet Company“emphasized that it has no scientific evidence that its treats are causing Fanconi-like syndrome” but“decided to withdraw the product on the basis of the 15 cases reported to us.”

(Side note:  Two years after KraMar recalled the irradiated Chinese imported chicken jerky dog treats,Nestle Purina purchased KraMar Pet Company (March 2010). And two years following this purchase, Nestle Purina purchased Waggin’ Train dog treats.)

Another interesting twist to the jerky treat investigation seeming to point to irradiation as the cause happened in 2009.  Another dog treat, Veggie Dents made by Virbac, seemed to be causing similar kidney failure in dogs.  The treat contained no chicken, however was treated with irradiation.

It appears the common thread in reports of sick pets from two continents spanning over 7 years is…glycerin and irradiation.  Chinese imported chicken jerky dog treats sold in the U.S. and Australia from numerous manufacturers (importers) and Veggie Dent dog treats sold in Australia which are believed to be the source of kidney disease in dogs – have those two things in common – the ingredient ‘glycerin’ and irradiation treatment.

Where is the FDA investigation on the effects of irradiation on glycerin?  From what the FDA has released on their testing of the jerky treats, it appears no investigation of the effects of irradiation to the glycerin ingredients in the dog treats has ever been considered.

Why is that?

Possible reasons circle back to two issues.  One, the FDA is a huge supporter of the irradiation of food.  Should irradiation be proved to be the link – chemically altering the glycerin ingredient (and components within the glycerin) to become toxic/lethal, the safety of food irradiation would be questioned by the public.  Needless to say, the FDA does not want its irradiation methods proven to be toxic to pets.

Two, goes back to the numerous documents acquired by Food and Water Watch regarding the push by U.S. government officials to approve for human consumption chicken from China.  If Chinese imported chicken was confirmed to be the cause of thousands of pet deaths and illness, the push for Chinese chicken for human food would suffer.

Pets are caught in the middle.  And they are dying and suffering from kidney failure by the thousands – caught in-between a game of politics.  It does not appear that the FDA is seriously trying to find the reason why thousands of pets have died or suffered believed to be linked to the consumption of chicken jerky treats imported from China.  Phyllis Entis of eFoodAlert put it best…”In its efforts to appear “transparent,” FDA is doing a good job of making itself look ridiculous. Who does the agency think it is fooling?”