Thursday, April 26, 2007

Timing and triggers - Would Menu Foods have recalled anything?

Another great post over at

In Tuesday’s four-hour session of live-blogging the food-safety hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives – work from which her wrists have yet to recover – Christie found herself typing something we at the PetConnection first heard weeks ago, but couldn’t get confirmation on until it came up in the hearing:

Without Iams, there might not have been a recall at all.

In sworn testimony, Menu Foods CEO Paul Henderson admitted that his company called the recall because Iams told them they’d had enough, that their own quality internal systems had revealed a problem, and that they were pulling their own products even if Menu wouldn’t pull them all.

It was that stand that triggered everything that has followed since. Menu launched the massive and unprecedented recall before Iams could, but only because Iams was ready to do it on their own. Here’s the transcript:

STUPAK: “I was surprised by your answer this morning, Mr. Henderson. If you take a look at the record and the timeline, March 15th was your first recall for all wheat gluten manufactured between Dec 3rd, 2006 to March 6th. March 24th was your second recall; you expanded to include additional dates. On April 5th, you had your third recall. On April 10th you had your fourth recall. So an immediate recall authority by the FDA would not have taken a month for you to recall your products. Correct?”

HENDERSON: “I would have to say that’s incorrect. The information that you’re looking on, the recall that took place relative to the date of March 16th, Menu Foods at that point in time did not know what the problem was.”

STUPAK: “Well, I’m not asking about the problem. My question was a recall, should, should we give the FDA the right to an immediate authority, and would it have made any difference. You said you didn’t think it would make any difference in this case, and yet the recall went on for about a month. I think an immediate recall authority for the FDA would have made a difference here.”

HENDERSON: “The, the recall that was initiated by Menu Foods and the, essentially as a result of following conversations with the FDA, we identified, this was the scope we’re proposing to do. Whether or not they might have come up with a different scope, that’s a valid point. They might have come up and said, recall more, or recall less.”

STUPAK: “But even before you - I don’t mean to be argumentative, here - even before you, at Menu Foods, and the FDA decided to recall, Iams had already told you they would no longer accept your product, and they were going to recall all food manufactured by Menu Food in, at the KS plant, right? So, really, IAMS was the first one to really start it, the ball rolling here that something was wrong. And I guess maybe what we’re getting at here is there’s also a corporate responsibility, instead of waiting for the FDA. If Iams, the pet food manufacturer sees a problem, and they’re recalling it, I would have hoped that the corporations would have done it without FDA authority. But even WITH FDA authority, if we could grant that to them, I think we could have maybe limited the scope of the harm caused throughout
our country.”

HENDERSON: “Well, again, relative to the facts as they actually transpired, the conversation that took place with Iams, they, they essentially shared some information with us. We got together the next day, and essentially in a, in a rather lengthy meeting, both parties exchanged what they knew. Being that individually there wasn’t enough information to, to draw conclusions. But together, it looked as from a circumstantial evidence perspective, as if we had the basis for a recall. They opted to recall, we went along. We announced first.”

STUPAK: “Iams sees the need for a recall, but almost two weeks before that, your own taste testing lab out of 20 animals, three died and six were dead That’s almost 50 percent; I would that would cause Menu Foods to be concerned and talk about a recall, or what’s going on here quicker, than wait until Iams forces the issue, and then the FDA, and on and on.”

Iams has now confirmed that account with us: That they would have launched their own recall if Menu hadn’t.

Why does this matter?

Because while we certainly do think the recalls should have been made sooner – and should be being made now, based on what the FDA already now knows and will not reveal to us – we shudder to think how much worse this situation could have been had Iams not muscled Menu into pulling all affected “cuts and gravy” product.

Would we have ever known there was a problem if they hadn’t? Before the first recall, veterinarians across the country were comparing notes and scratching their heads over the mysterious increase in acute renal failure in their practices. We had veterinarians wondering if the problems were local – such as in a pesticide incident, or serial pet poisoner – and those who were suspecting that something must larger was going on. But what?

The Menu Foods recall was the “AHA!” moment when it all made sense.

But had Iams not threatened their own recall based on their own internal tracking systems, would the rise in acute renal cases just been just a blip on the radar screen, a misunderstood and tragic aberation? Without Iams own internal investigation and the power they could bring to bear on their contract manufacturer, would we now have a massive FDA investigation into Chinese imports and their possible contamination of the human food chain? Two Congressional hearings? And much, much more?

These are all good questions, and we’ll never know all the answers. But it’s very possible that without the decision of one of the big pet food companies to take the hit entirely on their own, we wouldn’t know anything at all now, and many thousands more of our pets might be sick or dead, without anyone ever really knowing why.

I agree. And I think it's happened before. We cannot let it happen again.

No comments:

Volunteers Needed! Get food off shelves...,,,, and have joined together to ask for your help.
Update 6-10: Recalled food was purchased from a
California store on 5-29th – this stuff is still out there!
We need Volunteers to help get recalled food off store shelves. Read this post at Spocko’s Brain for instructions. Print a list (or two) on this site. Visit stores, then report safe stores here at

Printing Information:
1. Print the main FDA Pet Food Recall page – this will be handy to show retailers who haven’t heard anything about the recall. (3 pages)

2. Print the list of 14 Major National Brands - it includes flavors and date information where applicable so you can tell if specific products for these brands have been recalled. The brands are: Alpo Prime Cuts, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul, Doctors Foster and Smith, Eukanuba, Gravy Train, Hill’s Science Diet, Iams, Jerky Treats, Lick Your Chops, Mighty Dog Pouches, Natural Balance, Nutro, Pounce, Royal Canin. (It’s 7 pages and includes FDA contact information.)

3. Print the List of All Brands – it will remind you what products have been recalled - but it does not give you date and flavor information, there is just too much to put in one document. (7 pages, but the 7th page is links to more detailed information so you don’t need to print it)

If you want, and are going to a store that you know has store brands that have been recalled (such as Walmart), go to that recall information at the links on the summary or at the FDA site and print it out. Some of the information is formatted in ways that make it difficult to read (one of the main reasons for this site), but it’s better than nothing.

Note: The FDA is the official source for all recall information and recalled products. This is an unofficial volunteer effort to help get the word out and get recalled foods off of shelves. We’re doing the best we can but can’t guarantee these lists are completely accurate. Again, here is the official recall site: