Just a Note.
~ This is a transcript from the 7.30 report – a current affairs program from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation~
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
MARK BANNERMAN, PRESENTER: Now each year Australians spend more than $2 billion feeding their cats and dogs, but if the pet food industry is big business, it also has a bit of a problem.
In recent months pet owners and vets claim dogs and cats have been poisoned by contaminated imported pet food.
While these products have been recalled, veterinarians say the pet food industry relies too much on self-regulation.
Now vets and pet owners are calling for a government watchdog to oversee the pet food industry.
This report from Bronwyn Herbert and we should warn that it contains some disturbing images.
BRONWYN HERBERT, REPORTER: Just a few months ago Stella was healthy and frisky, but that was before this Burmese cat began losing control of its hind limbs, which are now completely paralysed.
RICHARD STOMPS, CAT OWNER: She could run, jump and play, she would be outside hunting lizards all day and today she can’t really move.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Stella’s spinal sheath is shattered and the cat is also showing signs of brain damage.
RICHARD STOMPS: It’s a devastating illness basically.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Ironically, veterinarians strongly suspect the cause is a diet of gourmet pet food.
GEORGINA CHILDS, VET NEUROLOGIST: I’d have to say that the circumstantial link is extremely high because we’ve got nearly 50 cats affected to date out of a population of probably only 500 or so cats that might have been fed the diet and we’ve seen no cats with this particular problem that have not been fed the diet, which is the other worrying thing and makes the definite link with the food.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Since July Richard Stomps had been feeding his cat a Canadian made pet food called Orijen.
At $70 a bag, it’s marketed as biologically appropriate to match a pet’s natural diet – high in protein and low in carbohydrates.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Across Sydney, another 50 felines that have eaten it are now paralysed.
Nick Sandy’s three cats are among them.
NICK SANDY, CAT OWNER: On one side I wish we’d fed them, you know, tinned cat food, you know, to be honest. But you know, we thought if you, you know, give the cat’s better food then they’re going to cause less problems down the line with veterinary bills and, you know, they have a better life.
So, what do you do? It’s just one of those catch 22 situations.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Champion pet foods is now voluntarily recalled its Orijen pet food from Australia.
While the company exports its popular cat food to more than a dozen countries it says only Australia has experienced the disease outbreak and blames Australia’s irradiation for the problem.
Under Australian quarantine laws all imported pet food has to be irradiated or heat treated, to kill off potential diseases.
Pet food is required to be irradiated at a rate of 50 times that required on some imported fruits.
Unlike food for human consumption there are no laws that require pet food to be labelled as irradiated.
Australian quarantine declined to speak to the 7.30 Report but in a statement says Australia’s irradiation standards are based on international guidelines and on advice from the Australian Animal Health Laboratory.
The owners of this pet store have sold hundreds of kilograms of Orijen and say even if irradiation is to blame the company was too slow to react.
TERRY HORSFALL, PET STORE OWNER: For Champion Pet Foods to be aware that there is a potential problem and say nothing, I think is totally irresponsible.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Champion says its products were safe when they left the factory and it took time to understand the effects of irradiation.
Terry Horsfall says his veterinarian was threatened with legal action if she spoke out against the Orijen product.
TERRY HORSFALL: Champion had threatened her with legal action if she said anything publicly.
So two weeks had gone by where cats are continuing to consume the cat food, no one had any indication that there was a problem, Champion had made quite the opposite of making people aware there’s a problem – they blocked the people who knew there was a problem from telling everyone.
BRONWYN HERBERT: In a statement Champion says:
“We have not threatened anyone with legal action. However we have hired legal representation in Australia and we will be active in defending ourselves from slanderous comments.”
The company is now paying up to $2,000 for medical costs of injured pets.
Vets say the threat of litigation is a heavy weight to bear.
GEORGINA CHILDS: It’s very difficult because, you know, you can be sued for libel for accusing a particular product of causing a problem.
And so it’s very hard to get that information out there, and to find, as I said, whether there is a common experience.
BRONWYN HERBERT: The pet food industry is largely self-regulated.
It has a code of practice, not laws, to guide companies on issuing product recalls and labelling.
Its peak body, the Pet Food Industry Association, declined to speak to the 7.30 Report, but Duncan Hall from Australia’s largest pet food manufacturer, Mars Petcare Australia, says the industry’s voluntary recalls are appropriate.
DUNCAN HALL, MARS PETCARE AUSTRALIA: I think that every company is required to act promptly, when they recognise that there is a clear cause and effect association between a product quality issue and pet health.
And in those cases, certainly from our organisation’s perspective, once we understand the facts, once we understand the clear causal link between a product and a problem, then we would act swiftly to make the decision to recall a product from the shelf.
BRONWYN HERBERT: But questions have been raised as to what is a prompt recall.
In another case, a KraMar dog food treat made in China was recently taken off Australian supermarket shelves after it was revealed the product was linked to a debilitating kidney disease.
BRIAN FOUCHE, KRAMAR: Even though there’s absolutely no scientific proof or link between Fanconi syndrome and our product – the chicken breast strips – which is a frustration to us, because of our care for the pets out there and the cases that have been raised with us, we’ve decided as a precaution to voluntarily recall the product.
BRONWYN HERBERT: But vets say KraMar was first notified of the problem more than a year ago.
Christine Hubay’s two white haired fox terriers both fell ill in May after eating the treats.
CHRISTINE HUBAY, DOG OWNER: Up until now their treatment has cost about $1,069, which to some people would be impossible.
And so I just think it’s completely reprehensible that nothing could be done about this.
You know, my vets were keen to do something but they were threatened with being sued, right? By the company, and that’s appalling.
BRONWYN HERBERT: The head of KraMar denies there was a case of Fanconi syndrome before August last year.
BRIAN FOUCHE: Up until then we never had a single incident.
BRONWYN HERBERT: In response to the voluntary recall more than 100 pet owners and vets have contracted KraMar about dogs that are ill.
With more than 70,000 tonnes of cat and dog food imported into Australia, veterinarians and pet owners are now calling for an overhaul in the way the pet food sector is regulated.
GEORGINA CHILDS: It would be, I think essential to have a reporting body just so that things like this may be picked up sooner, and they would have the resources to mount a case for a problem and then put the problem to the pet food company.
RICHARD STOMPS: When you go into a supermarket and buy pet food you don’t really know what you’re getting; the manufacturers are self regulated.
Now, there is a list of ingredients but you don’t know where those ingredients come from and you don’t also know if the food has been irradiated because they don’t have to put that on the label, and so that’s what happened with Stella.
I really didn’t know what I was getting when I bought it.
MARK BANNERMAN: That report from Bronwyn Herbert.
SOURCE: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2008/s2464272.htm# Thank you Marge