Acetaminophen in pet food… NOT??? — and what you can do

June 15, 2007

The ASPCA’s email news to supporters today, along with their website, reduces concern about acetaminophen in pet food:


Last week’s news coverage included reports that a laboratory in Deer Park, TX, found varying levels of acetaminophen—which can be extremely toxic to dogs and cats—in some brands of cat and dog food not included on the Menu Foods recall list. As we waited for the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to release findings from this new investigation, we urged pet parents to stay abreast of developing news and keep a close eye on their pets.

On Tuesday, June 12, the FDA ruled out acetaminophen as a pet food contaminant. “The FDA found no trace of the medication in five samples of one type of cat and two dog foods it tested in the past week,” FDA spokesman Mike Herndon told the media.

Adds Dr. Steven Hansen, a board-certified toxicologist and Senior Vice President with the ASPCA, who manages the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, “My bottom line is I’m pretty confident in the FDA’s findings. Acetaminophen is not hard to find.”

The ASPCA continues to urge pet parents to stay alert to breaking news by visiting the ASPCA Pet Food Recall Center regularly for the latest information available.

On Wednesday, June 13, I wrote:

I can’t stand it. The latest offense in the Pet Food Recall Wars is a Texas lab that found acetaminophen in several samples of varied pet food products. As a common painkiller, this is one of many substances the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center cautions pet parents to be extremely careful to avoid giving their pets, especially cats. More links from Dr. Janet Tobiassen on About.com

Today, June 15, I’ll add:

Well, maybe that’s good news that the FDA ruled acetaminophen out as a contaminant, and maybe not. Likewise for word that Dr. Hansen from the ASPCA feels confident about that finding.

But I’m still rapidly losing confidence in our regulatory system overall — who is twisting whose arm here? Yet we — and our pets — continue to eat. Even if we switch to home-prepared meals for our pets, there’s still no guarantee fresh produce, even organic, is free of dangerous pesticide/chemical residues. And now the USDA is proposing to allow close to 40 non-organic ingredients in foods that carry the distinctive official seal for organic food. In his universally appropriate novel 1984, published in 1949, George Orwell coined a word for such deception: “newspeak.”

This whole acetaminophen episode reminds me of a pair of classic crisis communication case studies any good public relations student or practitioner can expound on at length: the Tylenol recall during the early 1980s, and the syringe-in-a-can scare with Diet Pepsi about a decade later. A few major differences between then and now:

  1. Biggest problem to overcome now: The FDA acted with much greater authority and credibility in earlier years.
  2. The earlier cases were strictly domestic.
  3. The current case links all sectors of the food/drug supply and safety chain, both human and animal.

So what are we doing about it?  Doesn’t anybody believe in “truth in labeling” — and enforcing it — anymore?

Here’s one place to take action — the American Humane Association’s petition (among several worthy organizations) to pass the Human and Pet Food Safety Act (H.R. 2108) introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro. The counterpart bill in the Senate, introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin, already passed unanimously.

There’s no excuse for this legislation to get bogged down. Let’s not let that happen!


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