Pet food faces increased scrutiny as regulators hold manufacturers accountable

September 22, 2021

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By Chris Harvey, VP, crisis solution

Research [1] has shown that many people prefer the company of their pets to that of their children.

So it should come as no surprise that recent pet food recalls have angered pet lovers and spurred regulators to swift action. And of course, plaintiff attorneys aren’t far behind, seeking ways to punish offending companies and avenge aggrieved pet owners.

Take the Midwestern Pet Food recall for example. The company voluntarily recalled 20 products last December that were linked to 28 dog deaths. It then expanded the recall in January after the product exceeded acceptable levels of aflatoxin, which is produced from mold.

After conducting inspections at four of the company’s plants, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Midwestern Pet Foods had not taken the necessary steps to address conditions that led to the recalls. The agency issued a corporate-wide warning letter [2] which said the inspections “revealed evidence of violations” and that the violations were “shared across multiple plants and were associated with the illness or death of hundreds of pets.”

The FDA also stated its commitment to “taking all steps possible to help pet owners have confidence that the food they buy for their animal companions is safe and wholesome” and promised to “hold companies accountable and protect animal health as a core element of the FDA’s public health mission.”

All manufacturers should take this as a strong warning to prepare for stricter regulation but also as a reminder that recalls and their attendant publicity are extremely damaging to even the strongest of brands. It’s not just the recall that matters, it’s also important to take the necessary steps to prevent future recalls.

After low numbers in 2020, pet food recalls appear to be returning to pre-pandemic levels

When comparing pet food data from the past four years, we’ve found that recalls are arguably down. We’ve seen 13 recalls in the first 8 months of 2021 compared to 12 through all of 2020. But while 2021 is up on 2020, the number of recalls are significantly lower than 2018 (27 recalls) and 2019 (32 recalls). So far, 10 of the 13 recalls in 2021 have been due to salmonella contamination. And nine of this year’s events have involved dog food.

Recalls in 2020 affected just shy of 300,000 units, whereas 2021 has seen over 65 million units affected. However, of the 65 million, the volume of the Midwestern Pet Food recall (aflatoxin) affected 58.7 million units alone. If removed, the average units per event drop significantly to 12.9k – the lowest number recorded in the past 4 years.

The data shows that elevated aflatoxin levels are a new risk the FDA is focusing on. If we look at the past four years of data collectively, we see two recalls in 2020 and only one in 2021, but none in 2018 or 2019. This data suggests they are testing for contaminants like aflatoxin where they may not have been doing so as diligently or frequently as before.

Pet food manufacturers must fully understand their responsibilities

Not only are people extremely protective of their pets, but the pandemic has made people rely on their beloved animals more than ever before. So it’s even more important for pet food manufacturers to be on top of quality control, providing safe products and complying with regulators who are tiring of the complaints they’ve been receiving from tens of thousands of pet lovers.

And with the FDA expressing its dedication to ensure safe products and promising to hold companies accountable, it’s essential that manufacturers – especially those that have positioned their products as being superior – review their recall plans and understand their heightened responsibilities.




Tags: Brand protection, food recall, food safety, Manufacturing, pets, recall, recall management, Regulatory change + Compliance, Resilience + Readiness, Trends + Transformation