We all know Beneful® from the TV ads, right? Nestle Purina’s multicolored kibble that gets dogs so excited? And their dog owners love it because it’s so colorful.
Apparently those colors lead dog owners to believe the manufacturer’s claims that the food is full of healthy meats, whole grains and veggies. But those colors certainly aren’t found in nature, and in Beneful® they come from artificial food dyes: Red 40, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Blue 2.
But the artificial colors aren’t the worst thing about this popular kibble.
You may have seen over the past few years that many dog owners believed their dogs got sick – and some even died – after eating Beneful®.
The Consumer Affairs website lists pages and pages of reports (1,711 reviews in all) from dog owners who claim Beneful® harmed or even killed their dogs.
Here’s a sampling of some of the health problems reported.
Enter The Food And Drug Administration (FDA)
The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) also received many of these adverse event reports from 2011 to 2013. In 2013 the FDA finally took notice and decided to do an investigation. Their CORE (Coordinated Outbreak & Response Evaluation) team sprang into action.
While this may seem like old news, it’s come to light again. The FDA received so many Freedom of Information Act requests about the complaints that they recently decided to release to the public all of the documentation relating to the complaints and the FDA investigation.
So you can now read the full report as well as all of the complaints filed with the FDA on their website.
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights.
The FDA shared the complaints they received about Beneful®. The list is quite a bit shorter than the Consumer Affairs list, but it still shows a number of serious health issues allegedly associated with Beneful®.
One problem with the complaints is that most of them came from pet owners, not veterinarians. This means that there is no supporting medical information or other details to help the FDA’s analysis.
And it probably means the FDA takes the reports less seriously.
The FDA inspected three of the company’s plants, in Flagstaff, AZ, Edmund, OK, and Mechanicsburg, PA.
Some specifics in the inspection reports are redacted, but you can tell the plant managers weren’t very cooperative. They refused to provide several things the inspectors requested.
Some things (like not being able to get samples of the exact foods implicated in the adverse events) are important, but the FDA let the company get away with saying no.
- The plant managers allowed the FDA to view, but not make copies of certain documents.
- They didn’t allow the inspectors to take any photos.
- One plant manager refused to sign affidavits the inspectors requested. These related to corn in the foods as well as manufacturing and distribution information.
- Some of the food formulations had been changed, but Nestle Purina corporate headquarters refused to provide details on the contents of the foods implicated in the consumer complaints.
- The inspectors took samples of several foods implicated in the complaints, but the specific lot numbers and foods were not available in every case.
All three plant inspection reports state that the investigators found “no objectionable observations.”
Now for the important part, the sample testing.
Lab Test Results
The FDA’s lab analysis revealed some dangerous ingredients in some of the foods.
Salmonella and Mycotoxins
Salmonella and mycotoxins were in just about every sample the FDA tested. That’s not surprising as they’re both in most dry dog foods.
The FDA has a zero tolerance policy for Salmonella in pet foods.
While dogs are not usually susceptible to Salmonella, people handling the foods risk infection. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling any dog food.
Mycotoxins are molds that are potentially harmful to dogs and they’re in most kibbles. In fact, in 2014 when the Consumer Council of Hong Kong tested several pet foods and found they contained aflatoxins (a type of mycotoxin), Purina made a statement to the South China Morning Post that aflatoxins were “an unavoidable natural contaminant.”
Mycotoxins can cause liver disease and cancer. Read this article for more about mycotoxins and aflatoxins.
But Salmonella and mycotoxins aren’t all the FDA found. Check out this summary from the report.
Ethoxyquin and Melamine
Both these toxic substances were in some of the foods the FDA tested.
Ethoxyquin is a pesticide that’s used as a preservative, usually in foods that contain fish meals and poultry meals. It’s allowed in animal feeds up to certain levels and should be disclosed on the ingredient label.
However, when it’s in fish or poultry meals as a preservative, the food manufacturer usually doesn’t mention it on the ingredient label.
Ethoxyquin has been linked to cancer and liver disease, among other things.
This article provides more information on Ethoxyquin.
The FDA analysis found “six violations regarding labeling for ethoxyquin.” The samples were within the allowable levels of 150 ppm, but the product labels didn’t list ethoxyquin as an ingredient.
This is the really scary one, because melamine is the substance that harmed so many pets who ate food containing Chinese vitamins and mineral premixes, back in 2007. Melamine in the food was responsible for thousands of pet deaths from kidney failure.
Melamine is an industrial chemical subject to a limit of 2.5 ppm in pet foods. But apparently it’s still showing up at higher levels.
There were two melamine substances in seven of the Beneful® foods the FDA tested – cyanuric acid and ammelide. They exceeded the allowable levels of 2.5 ppm of melamine.
Cyanuric acid is a swimming pool chemical that stabilizes chlorine, and ammelide is used in lubricating greases. Nothing about those descriptions makes them sound like something your dog should eat. But the FDA found them in Beneful® foods and they’re well known to be toxic to pets.
(NOTE: Melamine in dog food isn’t listed in the ingredients. Click here to avoid melamine in your dog’s food.)
At this point, you might assume that the FDA, who’s responsible for the safety of foods we and our pets eat, took steps to penalize Nestle Purina, who makes Beneful®.
Unfortunately you’d be wrong.
What the FDA has done is basically … nothing. No recalls, no regulatory action.
Oh, they gave Nestle Purina a little talking-to about the ethoxyquin labeling (they called it “educational outreach”).
And they were talking to Nestle Purina about validating the FDA’s lab results on melamine. But even though the melamine exceeded the allowable amounts, the FDA decided it wasn’t enough to pose a health threat.
And they didn’t do anything about the Salmonella. What happened to the zero tolerance policy?
So, after this big investigation, the FDA decided they couldn’t prove that Beneful® caused the “reported canine gastrointestinal illness.”
Even though they found violations relating to Salmonella, ethoxyquin labeling and melamine … they let it slide.
Again … as far as we can tell, the FDA took no further action.
So, please don’t feed your dog Beneful®. It’s just not safe.