Petco and PetSmart both announced over the past day that they would stop selling dog and cat treats imported from China. This comes after the US Food and Drug Administration issued warnings about dogs developing illnesses after eating chicken, duck, or sweet potato jerky treats, nearly all of which are imported from China.
“We’ve been following the FDA warnings and related customer concerns closely, and we’ve been actively reducing our China-made assortment and expanding our American-made offerings for several years now,” Petco CEO Jim Myers said in a statement. “We know the FDA hasn’t yet identified a direct cause for the reported illnesses, but we decided the uncertainty of the situation outweighs the lack of actual proof.”
Petco said it will have all treats from China removed from shelves by the end of this year. PetSmart announced its decision to follow Petco’s lead shortly after Petco released its statement.
The FDA says it has received reports on jerky pet treat-related illnesses involving 3,600 dogs and 10 cats in the US since 2007. About 580 of those pets died from their gastrointestinal illnesses or kidney failure.
In a recent consumer update, the agency advised pet owners to file reports if their dogs become sick for unknown reasons with decreased appetite and activity, vomiting and diarrhea.
“To date, FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine has conducted more than 1,200 tests, visited jerky pet treat manufacturers in China and collaborated with colleagues in academia, industry, state labs and foreign governments,” according to a statement on the FDA’s website. “Yet the exact cause of the illnesses remains elusive.”
There’s already been a proliferation of pet treats with “made in the USA” labels to appeal to pet owners wary of products made in China. After the initial 2007 pet food recalls of products tainted with the toxic chemical melamine, Massachusetts resident John Gigliotti founded a small pet food company called Whole LifePet.
Based in Pittsfield, Whole LifePet operates like a farm-to-table restaurant, Gigliotti told me in an interview. “We use human food suppliers only in the USA,” he said. “We get fish off the peer in Boston, free range venison from Germantown, N.Y., and we’re 100 percent transparent about where we get all of our ingredients.” The company supplies to Petsmart, Wegman’s, and small independent pet stores.
“We’re absolutely more expensive” than imported treats from China products, Gigliotti admitted. The ingredients cost more and the company tests samples from every product batch for bacteria and other food-borne pathogens before shipping them out.