Government vs Raw Pet Food: Answers Sues FDA

Court mallet on a book

Is the government trying to stop pet owners from feeding raw pet food? 

It certainly looks like it. And Answers Pet Food is courageously tackling the issue … head-on. 

This is big news for dog owners

It’s not just about Answers … it’s about your right to feed your pets a raw diet. Something health officials don’t want you to do.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) actively discourages people from feeding raw pet foods. Their main concern is humans getting sick from bacteria in the foods. 

Which we think is pretty insulting … because if you cook any kind of meat for yourself and your family, the risk is the same. We all know how to wash our hands and clean kitchen surfaces after handling raw meat, don’t we?

And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also acting to deter raw feeders by making it look as if raw feeding is risky for your dog.

FDA Pressures Raw Food Manufacturers

For the last few years, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has been pressuring raw pet food manufacturers. They’re doing it by applying a zero-tolerance policy towards bacteria like salmonella or listeria in pet foods. 

This zero-tolerance policy is what’s causing the problem. We’ll get into that later. 

Several raw pet food manufacturers have caved to the FDA pressure … and have adopted undesirable bacteria-killing processes. Most are using HPP (high-pressure pasteurization), irradiation or heat … to eliminate or reduce bad bacteria in their foods. 

RELATED: Raw dog food safety: Avoid this common mistake …

But Answers hurdle technology uses fermentation to minimize bad bacteria in their raw foods.

Fermentation produces good bacteria … probiotics. And the good bacteria crowd out the bad ones. So the chances of bacteria like salmonella in their food making your dog … or you … sick is extremely low. 

In fact, there’s no record of Answers’ foods making any humans or animals sick … ever.

But the FDA, as well as AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials) and the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) haven’t let that stop them from trying to enforce this zero-tolerance policy. 

So Answers is fighting back. On July 5th, 2019, the company (Lystn LLC) filed a lawsuit against all three organizations: the FDA, AAFCO and CDA. 

It’s an extremely bold move on the part of this family-owned company. And we wanted to understand why they’re doing it. 

So we chatted with Jacqueline Hill and Roxanne Stone from Answers to learn more. 

Here’s what they told us. 

Q. When Did You Decide To File This Lawsuit?

A. Well, we’ve talked about it since we started the company in 2010. We saw that there were regulatory problems… and we knew it would happen one day. 

It’s been a 10-year learning curve. We had to dive in and really understand the law.  That included 5 years of going to AAFCO meetings twice a year to get comfortable with our position. 

And we’ve spent years and years lab-testing our products. Over those years we’ve built enough confidence in our methodology that we felt the timing was right.

Q. Are You Worried About Taking On Such A Formidable Opponent?

A. Yes … anxious and scared, but also excited. It’s a David and Goliath story. We’re a family-owned company going up against the federal government.

We’re on our 4thset of attorneys. The last ones kept saying “you don’t have enough money to do this.”   

We found that many lawyers don’t want to go to trial … they’d rather do back door settlements. Fortunately, we found a more aggressive firm who wants to help us fix the injustice. 

Q. Can You Summarize Your Lawsuit?

What’s been happening is a serious injustice … that could affect every pet owner’s right to feed a raw, real food diet. 

But there’s no law about zero tolerance of bacteria in pet food. It’s a non-binding policy… but the FDA is applying it like a law. We don’t think they can do that. 

Detail of the lawsuit regarding the FDA's Compliance Policy

The FDA is treating non-binding compliance policies like they are law.

They’re trying to enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward bacteria (like salmonella) in pet foods.  And AAFCO and the state Agriculture Departments (like Colorado) are helping them. 

After melamine-tainted foods harmed so many pets in 2006-2007, Congress passed 21 USC 2102

That order mandated the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish processing standards for pet food. (The FDA is part of HHS.)

Secretary of Health and Human Services processing standards for pet food

But, 12 years later, the FDA hasn’t complied with this order! They took the easy way out by using policy as if it were law.

So there are no formal rules or laws in place… yet the FDA is using its desk guidance policies to make raw food manufacturers look like the bad guys.  

The policy states that it’s a “Nonbinding Recommendation” but they’re enforcing it like a law. 

We’re making the case that they’re not allowed to do that! 

Details of lawsuit on the policy that states that it’s a “Nonbinding Recommendation” but they’re enforcing it like a law

And again, AAFCO and the CDA are helping them enforce this policy… so we’ve included them in the lawsuit too.

The CDA has prosecuted us when they claimed to find salmonella in our food. We could have just pled guilty and paid a $750 fine. But that’s just a Band-Aid. It doesn’t fix the underlying problem.

Like the FDA, the CDA is also trying to adopt a zero-tolerance policy as law … without going through the proper channels and without proving the science. 

Q. Isn’t There Some Inconsistency In How The Government Views Bacteria In Food? 

A. Yes!  The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates food for humans. And they recognize that salmonella is naturally present in raw chicken. In fact, they say there’s a 25% chance there’s salmonella in the ground chicken you buy for your family

So they advise people on how to handle raw meats, clean surfaces and wash their hands … and so do we on our raw pet food packaging! 

Plaintiff labels its products to alert consumers of the potential risk of harmful bacteria in them

So the government thinks it’s OK for us to handle (and eat) grocery store chicken that contains salmonella … but not give it to our pets!

Q. What What Does The FDA Say About That Inconsistency?

A. They dismiss it. 

They say things like “what if the dog licks the baby?” or “what if the child plays in the dog’s bowl?” One official even said “dogs amplify bacteria.”

There’s no truth, no logic and no studies to confirm what they’re saying.  And the same risks exist with kibble, of course.  

If you consider the scenarios FDA mentions (the dog licks the baby, etc) … those apply to any food that comes into your kitchen.

Q. Does The FDA Have Any Proof That Answers Food Represents A Health Hazard?

A. They have none. There’s no smoking gun. We’ve never heard of anyone (not even a dog or cat) getting salmonellosis from our products.

If raw food was as dangerous as the FDA claims, you’d have clear-cut smoking gun data by now! After all, the CDC has the tools (DNA, genome sequencing) to collect that data.

So far, the FDA’s position is all conjecture.

A. Yes, very recently! There were 2 precedent-setting cases that parallel this case.

In one case a federal judge ruled against the FDA who was (again!) using desk policies to delay regulating e-cigarettes. The Supreme Court also ruled against a Medicare policy reducing reimbursements to hospitals … because they didn’t follow the proper regulations when they implemented the policy

So these are quite similar to our case, which is about government overreach … applying policy as if it were law.

Q. What Position Are Other Raw Food Companies Taking?

A. At best they’re cheering us on. They’re not providing any practical support … just waiting to see what happens. 

Q. What’s The Current Status Of Your Suit?

A. We’ve filed a temporary restraining order (TRO).  That means the FDA can’t enforce their policy while we’re in litigation. This gets us a faster hearing with a judge.  Otherwise they’re likely to move really slowly and tie us up for years in litigation. 

According to our attorneys, the TRO should get us a hearing within 12 weeks of our filing. 

Q. Other Than Telling People Your Story, How Else Can We Help?

A. Spread the word and help us get our petition signed! 

We’re aiming for thousands of signatures to show the federal government how many people want the right to feed raw. So we need numbers! 

It doesn’t matter whether they’re feeding Answers or not … in fact they don’t even have to be feeding raw. But everyone should want to preserve their option to feed whatever food they choose.

So … is there a way you as a pet-owner can help?

Protect Your Right To Feed Your Dog Raw Food

1. Read more about Answers’ lawsuit (including the formal legal complaint if you like) at their website Freedom To Feed.

2. Sign the petition and share it with everyone you know who feeds raw dog food diets! 

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