More Peanut Corp. of America recalls: 3 Flavors of Alaska Canine Cookies

March 13, 2009

peanut-corp_logoThe peanut butter, “power-bone” and carrot cake flavors of Alaska Canine Cookies are among the latest dog treats being recalled due to possible Salmonella Typhimurium  contamination. Source.

They were all manufactured with re-called batches of peanuts processed at the Blakely, Georgia processing facility of the now bankrupt Peanut Corporation of America. This plant, operating since 2005 had never been licensed and was never inspected. Yet is was contributing to America’s food supply.

It is alleged that PCA plant managers shipped peanuts that tested positive for salmonella a dozen times in 2007 and 2008. Inspectors also found unsanitary conditions: mold, roaches, a leaking roof, dead rodents, rodent excrement, and bird feathers in a crawl space above a production area. And it was contributing to America’s food supply. Source.

In Bankcruptcy court in Lynchburg, VA owner Stewart Parnell and family members put on a dumb show. He plead the Fifth, his right not to give self-incriminating evidence, when asked if he knowingly shipped salmonella-tainted peanut products from his plants in Blakely, Georgia and Plainview, Texas.

He answered, “I don’t know” to routine business questions and left most of the talking to his daughter, Grey Adams, the firm’s bookkeeper, claiming that “she knows more than I do” about the plant’s operation.

On the stand Ms. Adams was unable to tell the court the salary her mother was paid as office manager. When asked if the  company paid dividends to its stockholder from their $20 million in sales in 2008, she replied, “What’s a dividend?” Source. Does it seem like the extended Parnell family suddenly came down with a severe case of the Stupids?

The numbers: Since Jan. 12th  2009, 3,420 products containing peanut ingredients processed by Peanut Corporation of America have been recalled. They include snacks, peanut butter, brownies, cakes, pies, ice cream, candy, cereal, cookies, crackers, donuts, and pet food and treats. 683 people in 46 states have been sickened, a quarter of them requiring hospitalization and 9 have died — although these deaths have not yet been linked definitively to the salmonella outbreak. Source.

Another number: Total cost of this outbreak? In excess of $1 billion, said Don Koehler, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission while speaking before a House small business subcommittee. Source.

The big question: how are we going to secure the safety of the American food supply chain in the 21st century?


Pet Food – Nutrition & Contamination: Educate Yourself

March 11, 2009

food_pets_die_forWant to understand the issues surrounding pet food nutrition and contamination? Read these two books.

Ann Martin and Marion Nestle have done the research and pulled together the facts to make their books essential reading for everyone who cares about what they feed their dog or cat.

Martin’s book gives you the sordid truth behind the ingredients in many pet foods while Nestle recounts in great detail the Menu Foods recall and settlement of 2007, dealing with the failure of regulatory oversight.

In the current economy paying more for dog food is, I realize, a hard sell but when you consider the true cost (including veterinary bills) of the cheapest brands you might be willing to cut back elsewhere on your budget.

Food Pets Die For

Pet Food Politicspet-food-politics

Purina Alpo Ad Campaign: Corn for the Real Meat Lover in the Family

March 1, 2009

alpo_prime_cutsPurina Alpo dog food has a new campaign running that gets to the “meat of the problem” with the line, “Quick, get that dog some Alpo!”

OK, if the choice is between no food at all and Alpo, the Prime Cuts with Gravy wins that challenge every time. The only point in favor of Alpo’s dog food is the price. . .however, considering what you’re getting, is there any price that can make this food a bargain?

Note that they go to some effort to make the product visually appealing to the human consumer, when visual appeal is the last thing a dog considers when eating. They eat the inedible, remember? Their tag line is that their Prime Cuts Meaty Shapes are “for the real meat lover in the family.” But Alpo must have  a loose definition of the “real meat lover” because the top ingredient isn’t even close to meat, it’s ground yellow corn.

Why? Corn is cheap. Corn is also largely indigestible by dogs. This makes their stools larger with no nutritional benefit. So that’s actually the top ingredient in Alpo that you’re picking up in your yard and on all your walks.

Next up is beef and bone meal. This is a byproduct unfit for human consumption that is an inexpensive, low quality ingredient used to boost the protein percentage in the food. According to its definition by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, beef and bone meal is “the rendered product from beef tissues, including bone, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, hide, horn, trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents, except in such amount as may unavoidably occur in good processing practices.”

Then there’s soybean meal. This is one of the lowest quality proteins available to dog food makers. Some people make the case that most allergy problems in today’s dogs stem from the unnatural amounts of corn and soybean in their diet.

Beef tallow is fat, processed from suet. If you rendered it from a pig, it would be lard.

Animal digest is a concentrated soup which can be made from the “unspecified parts of unspecified animals.” This includes the so-called 4-D animals (dead, diseased, disabled or dying prior to slaughter), goats, pigs, horses, rats, dogs and cats euthanized at animal shelters, roadkill, restaurant and supermarket refuse. There is no control for quality or any check for possible contamination.

This is how barbiturates like pentobarbital (delivered by an intravenous or intracardiac injection) and used to euthanize pets can get back into the dog population, via their food. How much of this contamination do you need to rise to the level of harm? I don’t have the answer to that.

Though it’s helpful to remember that Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy — a fatal, neurodegenerative disease that causes a spongy degeneration in the brain and spinal cord — is passed on by feeding infected, ground up dead cows to living cows. (BSE is commonly known as Mad Cow Disease and Soylent Green is PEOPLE!)  Cows are herbivores, not carnivores or cannibals so it’s strange on more than one level.

But including the carcasses of poisoned dogs back in their food supply (even a little bit) can’t be a good thing, can it?

The next most prevalent ingredient is salt. So beef and bone meal and animal digest are as close as this product gets to real meat. You couldn’t do worse if you were  buying your meat from a NYC street vendor offering Roasted Substance on a Stick.”

Here’s the full list of ingredients in Alpo Prime Cuts Meaty Shapes Dog Food (below). They are listed according to weight from most to least (it’s usually enough to look at the top three to six ingredients to get a good sense of the quality of the food). Note that Alpo has to add back in vitamins and supplements that are lost even from their substandard filler due to processing.

Interestingly enough, this list is NOT from the web site. Remember that they’re selling food, right? I searched for but could not find any list of ingredients for any of their products on their web site. They don’t want to boast about what you’re actually buying in their dog food. And they have absolutely no reason to boast.

  • Ground Yellow Corn
  • Beef And Bone Meal
  • Soybean Meal
  • Beef Tallow Preserved With BHA
  • Animal Digest
  • Salt
  • Choline Chloride
  • Zinc Sulfate
  • Vitamin E Supplement
  • Ferrous Sulfate
  • Added Color (Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 2)
  • Manganese Sulfate
  • Niacin
  • Vitamin A Supplement
  • Calcium Carbonate
  • Brewers Dried Yeast
  • Copper Sulfate
  • Calcium Pantothenate
  • Natural Flavor
  • Pyridoxine Hydrochloride
  • Vitamin B12 Supplement
  • Thiamine Mononitrate
  • Vitamin D3 Supplement
  • Riboflavin Supplement
  • Calcium Iodate
  • Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex (Source Of Vitamin K Activity)
  • Folic Acid
  • Biotin
  • Sodium Selenite

Bottom line, the safest and healthiest thing you can feed your dogs is a home-cooked diet. Add supplements and vitamins if you need them. Yes, it takes more time and planning, but you’ll find a routine that works once you make the switch. Switching to a home-cooked diet can even be cheaper, provided that you are already overpaying for “premium” brands that charge $50 for a 25lb bag of food and not feeding cheap filth like Alpo.

Melamine-tainted Milk Kills 1,500 dogs in China

October 22, 2008

You may remember that melamine was part of the massive Menu Foods recall story from 2007. It was used then, as it is now, to make a product falsely test higher for protein. Manufacturers use it because it’s significantly cheaper than adding a real source of nitrogen protein. This allows their products to pass inspection, be certified by the Chinese Health Ministry’s inspectors and reach the consumer market.

Four infants have died in this latest scandal, along with the 1,500 dogs, raising concerns about the safety of the entire Chinese food supply chain. Additionally, tens of thousands of Chinese children have developed kidney stones from dairy products contaminated by melamine. The Associated Press has the entire story here.

A further sad note in this story is that these ‘raccoon’ dogs were being bred and raised for their fur, just like minks. Though I have strong reservations about PETA this is one issue we can agree on, fur is murder. Given that no one owns a fur coat out of necessity, eliminating this long-standing fashion statement would mean that one less animal breed would be needlessly exploited.

Disclaimer: I’m wearing leather shoes and a leather belt. It is hard for me to accept absolutes in this particular debate.


Pet Food: A Dog’s Breakfast – Canadian TV documentary

February 7, 2008


–from the CBC web site


Do we really know what we’re feeding our pets? In the Spring of 2007, pet owners across North America were devastated when upwards of 50,000 of their beloved pet dogs and cats fell seriously ill after eating tainted pet food. Many of the animals died. Menu Foods of Toronto, the manufacturer, initiated the biggest recall of pet food in North American history.

In the wake of the scandal, the trust pet food makers so carefully nurtured with pet lovers has been severely shaken, and the $16 billion dollar pet food industry has come under public scrutiny as never before. Pet owners and governments are asking: Is pet food both nutritious, and safe? Does it live up to the claims of its makers? Is the industry adequately regulated?

Yap films’ new documentary, PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST, investigates, and discovers that a ‘dog’s breakfast’ may be just that.

This exposé takes viewers inside the world of pet food manufacturing and is essential viewing for every pet owner.

PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST features critics of the industry, foremost among them Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, a California vet, and insider who used to work in the pet food industry. She says the recall of food made by Menu Foods of Toronto is a sign of larger problems. “Unfortunately the pet food industry is cutting corners, is not doing the testing it says it’s doing, is not using the quality of ingredients it wants pet owners to believe are in that bag and can, and is not forthcoming with pet owners about those facts. It is not a truthful industry.”

PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST profiles three pet owners who say their pets have been made ill or died as a result of eating tainted food. They are plaintiffs in class action lawsuits seeking to recover not only money spent on vet bills, but also compensation for the emotional trauma they have suffered. One of the owners, Jovanna Kovacevic of Toronto, says, “You get very close to a cat. It’s not just an animal, it’s a member of your family. One of her cats died after eating food that was later recalled. Another is still sick and needs ongoing, and ruinously expensive, veterinary care. “It’s not my fault”, she says, “so you want them to pay for their mistakes. You’re angry.”

As Vancouver class action lawyer Lucianna Brasil explains, the claim for emotional damages indicates how our view of pets has changed over the past decades. Animals used to be thought of as companions. Now they are more like members of the family – like substitute children. In fact, about two thirds of pet owners are childless. Even though under the current law, pets are considered ‘property’, the pet food industry strongly promotes the view that pets are family members and markets its products on that basis.

Critics also say there is a big gap between how the companies want consumers to perceive their product and what it actually is. Pet food commercials and labels show fetchingly presented ingredients that humans would be happy to eat. The pet food industry often refers to its products as “human grade’. But Elizabeth Hodgkins says this kind of marketing is misleading. “I think many pet owners would be very surprised to learn about the ingredients that are actually going into the can or the bag of food that they’re feeding to their pet. They would be shocked.” Hodgkins goes into the kitchen to reveal the secrets of what’s actually in your pet’s food and how it’s made.

Dr. Meg Smart, of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, says that expensive pet foods labelled ‘premium’ are often no better or different than cheaper food. The program tests that assertion in a feed testing lab. And Smart also brews a strange concoction, made of old leather boots, wood shavings and motor oil, which in theory could pass one of the minimum standards for pet food, even though it’s inedible. Smart – an educator of veterinarians – also warns that many vets don’t know as much about pet food as consumers think they do. The program offers advice for those wondering what they should be feeding their pets.

As seen in PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST, there is a growing call among consumer activists for greater regulation that will bring the pet food industry to heel. Your pet’s life may depend on it.

PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST is produced by yap films in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation