Here is our live transcript after the jump. It’s not the full transcript and rough around the edges, but very extensive.
UPDATE: Sen. Durbin’s office issues their recommendations to change the system.
Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI): every American household and many are extremely concerned
FDA still say 16 animal deaths- other reports are more troubling- Banfield (largest animal hospital) say 39,000 others say 3500
FDA has received 13,000 complaints (more than double than they receive on all topics all year) - people are worried
FDA website has exacerbated the confusion- on Monday, all contaminated wheat gluten has been traced. but then the FDA is quoted “we are still tracing the contaminated wheat gluten”- pet owners get different stories.
Each time recall is expanded, people wonder what is next. when will we get the all clear signal? and what assurances the FDA can give to us with a 100% confidence
Pets are members of the family- buy the most expensive food and when they do this and their pet gets sick, people are sad and are rightfully angry and are fearful and feel betrayed that their pets are not safe.
Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT):
Says that it is only 1% of pet food that is recalled, but still is significant- wonder how lethal it is. pet is an important part of the family. He said “the FDA has reacted swiftly to this incident and we are glad of that” (oh really?)
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Why he called the hearing:
1) he knows what pets means to family - 68 mil households own pets- “we owe them loving care in return”- numbers in dispute
State Vet association record more deaths than the FDA has stated.
many unknowns: # of deaths, and the source, and why a batch of Chinese wheat gluten was contaminated and why the recall went so slowly.
2) what is the connection in e.coli in spinach and contaminated pet food? Same broken food safety system- too many agencies, too many laws up to 30 different laws, too many committees on Capitol Hill, too many special interest groups– want one single food safety agency- driven by science and not by politics
continue to examine”
1) limit risk to pets and remove contaminated pet food and alert pet owners.
“It disturbs me that human food is also at risk.” Wants to look at three areas: 1) Timing- menu foods : how long did they wait to notify FDA? notified on march 5 and knew on Feb 20. why did it take so long? companies that delay safety recalls should face penalties; 2) the products have never been inspected– there is limited federal presence- does FDA need to standardize? need more better data and reporting? “Blogs of non-profit websites have sprouted as the best way to share info on this contamination- a voluntary effort of pet owners is spreading more info than the govt” If sites like petconnection.com can do this, so can our govt.
Dr Stephen Sundlof:
As a pet owner and vet, recognize the importance and offers sympathy to affected pet owners. hit close to home because he was feeding one of the products on the recall list to one of his dogs.
No evidence that any of the wheat gluten has gotten into the food supply. within 24 hours of learning about Menu foods, FDA agents were at the Emporia Kansas plant searching for wheat gluten- and using adv tech, scientists discovered melamine within 24 hours and discovered importer then discovered Chinese supplier and asked Chinese govt to participate in invest. — sampling 100% of wheat gluten from China and Netherlands. 10 FDA districts and 5 field offices have examined wheat gluten and pet food supplies. These events show the FDA thoroughness- we have id’d the source, the importer and supplier and the parties received the suspect material. to ensure success of pet food recall, we are comm with state authorities of agriculture- also recalling all products from the pet food supply chains and that retailers removed food from shelves.
The pet food institute- the product recall rep only 1% of pet food in market. so there are many choices for pet owners to choose from.
Kohl: FDA put a press release that there is contaminated food on shelves and that the retailers have not removed it. What should consumers do?
Sundlof: we know that all audits have not been completed- we have FDA agents working on this process. we urge consumers to go on our website to check the list and not feed their pets with this food.
Kohl: is the FDA confident that this will not grow to any more products?
Sundlof: we are deep into the invest- we continue to id small shipments of wheat gluten that may have gotten into pet food- we know where all of the shipments went but we are trying to account for it on a pound by pound basis- we are trying to reconcile all the products
K: you’re not at the point yet? so it is possible that there may be additional recalls?
Sundlof: no, we are not at that point yet. yes, it is possible.
K: when will we get the all clear?
Dr. Steven Solomon (another witness with Sundlof): this is an active and ongoing invest. we are following leads and testing products. when we find positive samples, we conduct the firm and work to get the product off the shelves.
K: if consumers want to do recalled food, they can check your website for up to date info?
K: if consumers are concerned, should they check with retailers to see what is not on the banned list?
Sundlof: they can but should check the website
Solomon: we did a blitz activity of 400 audits and most are in compliance and we have asked state reg counterparts to use the same procedures to make sure that these are off the market
K: are you confident that you are over 90% that you are identifying all contaminated product?
Sundlof: yes- we are only finding issues of individual shipments that are being diverted to other places- we look at Banfield data and they say that it has peaked and we are certain that the recall has been effective in preventing any other illness and death and that we haven’t gotten the vast majority of the products off the shelves
Sen. Robert Bennett: inspections of animal feed manufacturers including firms that manufacture pet food- are you satisfied that the div of the responsibility of the FDA and states will ensure the safety of the pet food supply
Sundlof: Yes, this relationship has been effective:
Solomon: We work directly with the state agencies- some are direct contractors, some we have partnerships and others we enhance our activities- they are following the same procedures- products and inspections are reviewed by the government
Bennett: what is the tipping point that one state you use contracts and the other you use FDA agents?
Solomon: we solicit states and offer them the opp to work under contract so they can increase their revenue and help their infrastructure- we avoid redundancy and that they follow the same standards.
Bennett: you’ve hear the comment that there needs to be an organization like CDC to monitor the health of the animal population
Sundlof: we’ve been in touch with the CDC and have been in contact with them. there is a society with the vet comm that deals with the same issues (like the CDC)- they rep the scientific experts in the diagnostic labs that deal with animals- we are working with them to determine if the illness is related to the pet food. how many animals have been impacted? we need to define the criteria
Bennett: is the CDC a good idea?
Sundof: it certainly is something we should consider. i don’t see a downside to it. this is the first time that we needed fire power to deal with something this great. it is something we will look into it.
Bennett: the CDC has a fairly wide public relations program- both Sundlof and Solomon has said that there has been diff with the public relations aspect with the food recall. how has the FDA managed making info available to pet owners?
Sundlof: we made the decision that we were going to get info out as soon as possible. we felt that it was important to let the public know that we didn’t know the full extent of the recall and that we recognize that there was a lot of confusion and that we didn’t have all of the info at the time. we decided to let the public know whenever we had any new info
Bennett: are the pet companies required to let you know when they run into safety problems?
Sundlof: Yes they are
Durbin: you said that there is no contaminated wheat gluten in human food supply? there was a report that a batch was intro in the human food supply but was then pulled after it was processed in retail items
Solomon: the agency is committing a lot of resources to this- tracing back and forward. we id’d gluten shipments coming in- the wheat gluten came from the same comp and we have looked at other importers with the same lot # and tested those products and all tests were negative
Durbin: requirement for companies to report to the FDA– what is their timeline?
Sundlof: immediately. it is up to the company to determine it is significant.
Durbin: what is the penalty for failure to report on a timely basis
Sundlof: I will have to get back to you on that
Durbin: I wish you would. Would you consider reporting three weeks after the discovery of contaminated food timely?
Sundlof: i can’t answer for the pet food company. i just don’t know as soon as they know, I would hope that they would discover it, they would notify it immediately
Durbin: would you agree their delay led to increased illness and death?
Durbin: does the FDA have the legal authority to mandatory recall of a product?
Sundlof: we don’t have the legal authority- we have other measures that we use such as use seizure of product- but in this case, they all voluntarily recalled their product
Durbin: is the FDA established basic standards for the state inspections?
Solomon: when they are done under contract agreement, they are following the same procedures and standards.
Durbin: i worked in a meat packing factory- and the USDA inspectors were on there everyday every minute when the plant was open-
- taking into account the frequency of the FDA inspects- it leaves something to be desired- how often does the FDA inspect pet food processing facilities in US?
Sundlof: i can’t give you a stats- i can tell you how many we’ve inspected since 2004- 661 pet food establishments. most of those were for mad cow inspections but there have been many for other reasons- routine inspections- for the past 3 1/2 years, we have inspected 30% of all of the pet food manufacturers in the US
Durbin: less than 1/3 of the pet food manufacturers have been inspected once in the last 3 1/2 years- do you think that is adequate inspect to ensure the quality of pet food?
Sundlof: we try to get to the risky products first- we were concerned with mad cow disease- pet food is generally have been a safe product and have found few problems. this is so unusual and we are dealing with a substance we have not used before. we have tried to hit those plants that have the greatest risk. when we did inspect menu foods after the recall, they passed the FDA regulation
Durbin: FDA is imp agency with limited resources– what has happened with the pet food recall, we are not dedicating to the most basic resources to this endeavor- have you gone to your website to try and find what pet food has been contaminated?
Durbin: Did you have any difficulties?
Sundlof: I admit I did.
Durbin: I did too. This is hard to follow. you have to work your way through every single press release. you are adding contaminted products to this everyday. can i suggest that the FDA put it in a user friendly format?
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) (pet owner - dog’s name is Trouble)
Byrd: can we now be certain that all of the tainted product are on the recall list? are you under oath? would you mind putting him under the oath? (they put Sundlof under oath)
Sundlof: the way that we have added products when we trace the contaminated wheat gluten, those products go on the recall list- when we have heard from a vet in a specific pet food, we investigate and it comes in pieces and we put them on the recall list- we think we have accounted for just about all of it but we can definitely say that we have found everything- we will be analyzing product and will then be recalling it
Byrd: can you explain the diff of your reported fatalities and other organizations?
Sundlof: we don’t have a good # of how many pets have been affected. we have over 15,000 phone calls by the FDA- at this point, we are just trying to make sure other pets are affected. once we know that all of the contaminated product is off the shelves, then we will go back and sort through all of the report.
Byrd: do we know for certain how long tainted food product to the public?
Sundlof: we know when it come to the US- it come in November 19,2006
Byrd: can you explain what screening systems that are deployed by the FDA that harmful substances do not poison pet food products?
Sundlof: manufacturing companies are required to produce safe and wholesome food- the pet food manufacturers are responsible of ensuring that the ingredients are free of contaminants and we inspect the comp on occasion and they are required to have records- the system works that the manufacturer is supposed to produce a safe product and have records to show us that it is safe.
Durbin: what is the involvement of the CDC was?
Sundlof: when we learned that the gluten was the cause, we asked the CDC to look into renal failure in humans.
Durbin: any evidence of increase renal failure?
Sundlof: we will need to check with CDC
Durbin: you said “there is no requirement pet food products have pre-market approval by the FDA, but the FDA ensures that the ingredients are safe and have appropriate function in pet food” it is clear that you did not inspect the wheat gluten so when you make that statement, it is a general statement that wheat gluten should be a safe ingredient
Sundlof: yes- wheat gluten is safe
Dr Claudia Kirk, U of TN- Vet Med Professor
Kirk: wants to focus on: 1) Safety and testing, 2) Pet food manufacturer oversight 3) Tracking adverse health events in animals
1) safety and testing: poor tracking in marketplace. can we prevent future food contaminations? i doubt that. our ability is infeasible. global suppliers are not under the same scrutiny. we screen for the expected and that did not include melamine. research into more effective tools are warranted. can we limit the exposure?
2) self monitoring is not uniformed. inspections could have prevent food contamination. could more vigilance help? if companies were mandated to report immediately
3) there are no so such surveillance in companion animals like the CDC does for humans. scattered reports and no clear causes made it seem that there was not a significant problem at hand. the official reports are unrealistically low. one solution is to have a central organization to report illnesses and info- tracking pet health is a sentinel to our food supply
Dr Elizabeth Hodgkins
in the past 18 months, there were no fewer than 3 national recalls. it is clear that breaches of the FDA requirement are occurring- there is a systemic breakdown. no human food is able to be labeled with such broad labels that they carry safe and wholesome guarantees. since these food labels are ubiquitous, no company has any incentive to test for just the bare minimums. the fed govt can not keep up with the increasing size of the industry. what we need is stronger adherence to the act- the FDA to adhere to the act that pet food labels can not be false and misleading and that all safety and nutrition claims are not allowed. no implicit claims can be made without rigorous testing and long term clinical studies. the consumer would have a more informed choice with truthful labels. wants a Truth in pet food labeling reform
Eric Nelson- American Assoc of Feed Control Officials- President
He went off on what AAFCO does.
Duane Ekedahl- Pet Food Institute - Executive Director
- recognizes the pet food companies
- he started with the fact that he has pets (wow.. you’re on our side, then, huh?)
- we have announced the formation of the Pet Food Commission - brings vets, govt regulations and toxicology experts to make sure it doesn’t happen it again (Dr. Thompson will serve on the chair)
- pet foods are a highly regulated product- more info on the package than any other package and this is required by law
pet food plants are inspected by some of the same agents that inspect human food plants.- it is a highly regulated product. there is no confusion on labels- it is specific
we are working with the WHO to work on international standards for feed supply
the numbers of fatalities are all over- w/Banfield reports, they saw 237,000 cats and dogs and in that group there have been 5 cats and 1 dog that have been affected- but it does suggest that the industry acted responsibly– wheat gluten is not the issue- this contamination is the issue- the companies acted promptly- we think that we are hearing from the FDA that the products out of the system and then we will figure out the cause- and to report to the industry what the steps that should be taken
Kohl: how long has AAFO been working?
Nelson: we started the process in 2001- there has been some adoption of that and clearly not enough
Kohl: you worked as a rep for Menu Foods, how do all the plants work?
Kirk: the products can be the same- can be contracted to menu labs and the nutritionists are providing their formulas
Kohl: pet owners are not feeling safe about the pet food on the market
Kirk: i don’t normally rec that people cook for pets because the consistency of the product and a balanced diet over a prolonged time seems to wane. the products are generally safe in the market. rec the consumer check the actual label to determine if wheat gluten has been used
Kohl: please expand on AAFCO label
Hodgkins: ingredients are not being tested individually- every ingredient that comes from overseas is not tested. my concern is that pet owners feel that all the ingredient is safe- there is an unwarranted feeling of safety with the AAFCO guarantee. people are feeling that their pet food is safer than it is
Kohl: how could the situation could have been prevented because melamine was not being tested?
Hodgkins: a list can be more safe and complete over time. melamine has not been checked- but a pet label that ids that the ingredients are not undergoing any inspections is more fair- want to fix a sieve of safety and inadequacy
Kohl: the recall continues to expand and this shakes consumer’s confidence
Ekedahl: pet foods are safe and it’s because of the safety record. consumer has a high level of confidence in products. the industry has gotten those products out of circulation. there are many safe products out on the market.
Bennett: how do you feel about the proposal of Hodgkins labels proposal
Ekedahl: we have a remarkable system that works. manu label to the highest quality out there.
Bennett: so all the labels will be equivalent?
Ekedahl: it is a competitive field and the labels will be the same- each has their own theories and research and this is advertised in their labels
Bennett: will you walk through the process of screening
Kirk: would source ingredients that were reputable and had a history of providing high quality ingredients and have an analysis statements- an ingredient that we suspected would go through additional heavy metal inspection- test three diff lots and a large quantity and evaluation batch to batch consistency
Durbin: who funds the AAFCO?
Nelson: self funded-
D: who pays for the publications
Nelson: industries, state officials
D: some of your funding comes from the industry that you are involved with
N: it’s an open process- the industry does provide advisers to regulate- we want to develop regulations
D: so what % of your budget comes from the industry that you are overseeing
N: I would have to get back to you- the assoc have several meetings a year we have one employee (she is the Asst Sec Treasury)
D: and that one employee is determining the safety of the pet food in America?
N: all done on a volunteer basis of committees
D: holds up ALPO can and reads the AAFCO required label - so when you talk about safety you mean, nutritional safety- so this doesn’t mean that any ingredient in this can is not contaminated - not necessarily safe
N: when I talk about safety, I talk about prevention of contamination
D: but AAFCO doesn’t inspect?
N: not my association
D: I’m challenging your term that pet food is highly regulated- there is no AFFCO regulation, no pre-market approval, no regular inspection, only 30% of these plants will be inspected, no penalty if they don’t report, no govt authority to recall a contaminated product, no mandatory standards, - it’s hard to conclude that this is a highly regulated product
E: AAFCO has responsibility in each state- each state inspections should be FDA inspections- there are very specific rules and guidelines in inspecting plants
d: but they don’t show up
E: the system insists that you don’t have to have cop standing there watching your shoulder- the marketplace will deal with it
the marketplace deals with it because no one will buy Menu foods and animals died
D: all regulation will not have captured because it was from a foreign substance- do you have confidence that the next shipment of wheat gluten won’t be contaminated?
E: 100% of wheat gluten is being tested. it is just the contaminant
D: is menu one of your clients? do you think they met the standard of care and waiting for 3 weeks?
E: i have no knowledge of the timing.
D: reads the timeline - do you think that is the standard of the care?
E: I don’t know if that’s a standard. I don’t know the facts in the case. those products were recalled at once and it was responsible.
D: menu waited 3 weeks before reporting to the FDA and the FDA recalled 95 products within 48 hours- and Menu waited 3 weeks.
E: i don’t have the facts- we don’t have the direct knowledge of the timeliness
Kohl: can you explain how cross contamination can be prevented?
Kirk: a line would be hand cleaned between different ingredients and products being bagged
Kohl: is it your expectation that it is being cleaned in the same manner
Kirk: no, i have found kibbles in my dog food but it is usually done before diff products
N: no current requirement for clean up between different feeds other than medicated feeds