Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v07n08)
Howling at the Moon by Susan Smith
posted: Apr. 16, 2010
This time three years ago was a momentous, frightening and literally sickening time in the pet food industry. Most of you will remember it well. For me, who had just opened a pet food store five months earlier, it was a time that sent shivers to my core. It was one of those shocking events that you can remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard about it. Yet it is also an event that few talk about anymore. I was on my way to Hilton Head Island for Spring Break and had just stopped at a truck plaza for gas. Inside was a TV tuned to CNN announcing that pet food had been tainted with wheat gluten purchased from China and was laced with melamine. It was toxic to pets and at that time 14 had been reported of dying from kidney failure. The actual figures of recalled products and dead pets became staggering. Products numbered in the hundreds and pets numbered in the thousands. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration received reports of at least 1,950 cats and 2,200 dogs who died after eating the contaminated food, but only confirmed the 14 cases. In part, this was because there was no centralized government database of animal sickness or death in the United States as there is for humans (such as the Centers for Disease Control). For this reason, many sources speculate that the full extent of the pet deaths and sicknesses caused by the contamination may never be known. I stayed tuned in to reports and am happy to say that none of our store's products were recalled. However, local vets saw affected patients. I heard sad stories. On the bright side came lessons learned and new practices implemented. Those practices cost money and prices soared in 2008. We had multiple pet food increases at our store that year. Some brands raised their prices two and three times. It was dizzying for a small, new retailer. I couldn't keep up. I wasn't alone. The trade magazines were full of articles about increased costs. That December the recession was officially announced. It was a good time to carry premium brands as most of the contaminated product was sold at discount stores and groceries. It was a wild ride.
New safety standards are being implemented. It may assure you to know that Indiana had, and has, a watchdog out there looking out for you. His name is Vincent Glose. I first met him on the 6th day I was open for business. He doesn't miss a trick. He is an inspector from the office of the Indiana State Chemist and Seed Commissioner at Purdue University. When asked how he found out about my business he said he looked online at one of the pet food brands I carried and I was linked as a dealer. He came right over. I felt so vulnerable as he picked through my shelves and perused all the wonderful new products I had recently stocked from a buying trip at a Chicago trade show. If he had not heard of the brands or they were not listed as approved in his huge binder, he purchased them and took them back for analysis at the state labs. Vincent has come back three times and makes sure I am on top of things. I can't just buy dog biscuits from anybody. Those biscuits have to be approved. That means they must have a guaranteed food panel analysis. The manufacturer has to pay to have that done and it has to meet state standards. I am told Indiana is one of the most expensive states to get approved. Now when I buy things from new companies I always ask if they are approved by our state, because, if they are not, I risk having to pull them off my shelves. When Vincent takes things, I always get a final lab report as to how it tests out. Once they found fault with the crude protein percentage that was labeled on a bag of cat food. They requested the food manufacturer review and send a written response to the state within 21 days. Let's hope that this scrutiny is able to continue and that the FDA is more present in overseeing the safety of pet food. Our pets are important to us. . . . . . .they make us smile.
Susan Smith is a life-long area resident and is the owner of City Dogs Grocery located at 52nd and College. Send your pet related questions/comments to susan@BroadRippleGazette.com