WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following the deaths of 1,000 dogs which may be linked to tainted pet treats from China, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) held a news conference call to urge the Obama Administration to investigate Chinese food processing standards to ensure the safety of all products sent from China to the U.S. for our consumption. Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that it has received complaints claiming that 5,600 dogs have gotten sick—and 1,000 have died—as the potential result of tainted pet treats from China. To help find answers to this problem, Brown announced that he is introducing an amendment to the 2015 Agriculture Appropriations Bill to ensure Congress is given greater information on the Administration’s efforts to investigate the safety of China’s processing facilities.
“For many Americans, pets are members of the family and their death can be devastating,” Brown said. “There have been too many animals killed or sickened for the Administration not to address the potential link to tainted Chinese products. With American chicken now one step away from being processed in China and sent back to the U.S. for our consumption, immediate answers are needed and actions must be taken. The Administration can begin by better informing Congress on its efforts to investigate Chinese processing plants. And the Chinese government must work with our officials to ensure the safety of its products.”
Yesterday, Brown chaired a hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) to examine the safety of food exports from China. The hearing, entitled “Pet Treats and Processed Chicken from China: Concerns for American Consumers and Pets,” asked if China’s food safety regulation is effective. The FDA has not been able to definitively link the animal illnesses to pet treats from China despite its studies to date. While the FDA was able to acquire information during its last inspection of Chinese facilities, the factories reportedly didn’t allow FDA officials to take samples for independent analysis.
To help solve this issue, Brown announced today that he will introduce an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill that would mandate that the FDA and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) update Congress on their efforts to secure work visas for U.S. food safety inspectors from the Chinese government; and update Congress on the adequacy of U.S. food inspectors’ investigations into Chinese processing facilities, including those that produce pet treats and chicken meant for American consumption. The FDA is seeking to expand the number of U.S. staff members in China from eight to 27, but problems related to obtaining work visas from China have been reported.
Last month’s report by the FDA prompted major pet food sellers, Petco and Petsmart, to announce their intentions to phase out pet treats made in China. Researchers are also exploring the domestic outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv)—the first case of which was reported in Ohio one year ago—and tainted feed imported from China. PEDv has wiped out an estimated 10 percent of the nation’s pig population. While no cause has been identified, one theory is that it was transmitted through animal feed imported from China.
Further, chickens that are raised in the U.S. for human consumption may be shipped to China for processing before being sold back in America. Although China must gain final approval for an export health certificate, American consumers may start to see shipments to the U.S. soon. These developments highlight Brown’s concerns over the effectiveness of China’s food safety regulation, the effectiveness of U.S. government regulation of imported foods from China, and the overall safety of such foods. Finally, these developments raise questions about whether current labels are adequate in helping American consumers determine when foods or their components come from China—and may not be safe.
Brown was joined on today’s call by Terry Safranek, a Brooklyn Heights resident whose nine-year-old dog was recently killed after eating tainted pet treats from China. Only after seeing a story on the evening news did she realize that her dog’s death was likely due to his consumption of tainted chicken jerky treats. Safranek helped found “Animal Parents Against Pet Treats Made In China,” an organization that has called on the Administration to do everything it can to protect American pets from contaminated products from China.
“In December of 2011, my little Sampson, a healthy, lively and hilarious fox terrier mutt was showing signs that he was not well,” Safranek said. “He seemed withdrawn, and his appetite was decreasing, and all he wanted was to drink water and urinate. His health rapidly decreased. We took him to the veterinarian three times in the next two weeks. Finally, blood tests revealed horrible results. Sampson was in acute renal failure. The Doc gave him intravenous fluids for six long, tormenting days. And then, the agonizing decision, the hardest, most heartbreaking decision. With my husband and children around us, I held my little buddy in my arms for the last time, as he was euthanized.
“One day during this time,” Safranek continued, “I saw a local family on the news, holding up a bag of Waggin’ Train Chicken Jerky Treats. Their dog had eaten them died of renal failure a few weeks earlier, and their new little puppy was fed leftovers from the same bag—and became ill right away. As soon as they stopped the treats, he recovered. I was floored. It was the exact same treat that Sam had eaten; it had been his new favorite, and I was giving him them as a treat for about a month.”
To protect the health of Ohioans and their pets, Brown has repeatedly urged the FDA to take immediate and necessary actions to address this issue. In February, following a report by the Dayton Daily News showing that more than 100 dogs in Ohio have been sickened and more than 22 killed by tainted pet treats, Brown urged the FDA to take additional measures to ensure that no tainted products are currently on the shelves of local stores. Brown also encouraged the FDA to protect animals and consumers from future product contaminations by strengthening and finalizing its proposed rules on the manufacturing and health standards of pet treats sold in the U.S.
Brown’s efforts were also instrumental in passing the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010. The legislation gave the FDA new authority to recall dangerous foods, improve the safety of imported products, and establish a comprehensive traceability system to quickly and accurately trace the source of tainted food in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak.