On June 29, Menu Foods CEO Paul Henderson clearly tried to deflect any blame related to the pet food recalls at the company’s Annual Meeting. We’re not buying it.
Henderson first gives a brief synopsis of the “M.A.R.C. (Melamine and Related Compounds) recall” — a term that the Pet Food Institute and Pet Food Commission created to remove reference to pet food recalls. (You got to love acronyms. Doesn’t sound so bad to the pet owners when you use fancy terms, right?)
If we sound ticked off in our responses, it’s because we just might be. Henderson says:
I want to be very clear here that we were not making demands on our suppliers to produce low price gluten. Let me stress this point. We were more than willing to pay the going rate for what we thought was a product that met all of our specifications.
So, you’re telling us that there were no red flags when your company was paying so far below market prices for wheat gluten. Even Sundlof believed that you should have suspected that something was wrong when the prices were so low. Ever looked up the definition of gullible in the dictionary? Or did you just think you won the wheat gluten lottery?
Basically, you turned a blind eye and didn’t ask why prices were so low. Tsk… Tsk… Bad Menu Foods. Have you ever heard the saying that you get what you pay for? Well, in this case, our pets paid for it.
Weâ€™ve spent over 35 years in this industry and, in those three and a half decades, we have never seen anything like this â€“ certainly weâ€™ve never had to issue any food safety recall before this unfortunate incident.
Of course your company had no previous food safety recalls because there were no food inspections done at your company and pet food safety was never really examined before all of these recalls. So, don’t pat yourself on the back for your so-called perfect record. You just never got caught — until now.
Itâ€™s important to understand that everyone involved in the industry â€“ suppliers, competitors, regulatory authorities â€“ never suspected melamine. It just hasnâ€™t ever happened before and none of the industry standard tests â€“ which we all used â€“ could have detected it. To our knowledge, no pet food or human food manufacturer had ever tested wheat gluten for melamine, prior to this incident.
Actually, pet food melamine spiking in China goes back at least 15 years and spiking of baking ingredients in the US happened as early as 1975. So, Henderson, it seems like it’s been happening for awhile now. It’s a travesty that industry standards did not include the detection of compounds like melamine.
And it wasnâ€™t only our industry that was blindsided by the fraudulent acts of Chinese suppliers. According to other food safety reports, the contaminated plant proteins found their way into the respective feed systems of the pork, fish farming, and poultry industries, resulting in wide quarantines.
The pork and poultry industries received “contaminated plant proteins” when pet food companies including Menu Foods gave them contaminated pet food scraps. And the melamine continues to spread through not only our pet food but human food too.
The rest of the transcript (and our retort) after the jump.
Menu Foods, other industry participants, the US Food and Drug Administration and many others worked feverishly to determine the nature and source of the problems that began to be identified in early March. Menu cooperated fully with the government investigators and threw an array of its own technical and management resources to discover what was going on. Recognize that for several weeks, there was conflicting information about whether a problem even existed . . . let alone what the source of that problem might be.
Nevertheless, even in the face of inconclusive data, we acted.
How many dead pets does it take to make results conclusive? There were reports that the company was receiving complaints about the cuts and gravy style pet food as early as December. You told the FDA that you received your first kidney failure complaint on February 20 and tests began 7 days later on February 27 (this test was actually part of your routine quarterly feeding trials and not a specific test done in response to the complaints). The first animal in the clinical trial died on March 2 and the mortality rate is quoted at 1 in 6. That’s the same odds as playing Russian roulette with a revolver. Who knew eating pet food would give you the same odds of survival?
You acted on inconclusive data? You waited for animals in your feeding trials to die before your company did anything. If you acted on inconclusive data, you would have acted when you received the first complaint.
It took Menu Foods 14 days from when the first animal dies in your testing trials to finally recall pet food. That’s two full weeks after your own lab’s cats and dogs died from eating Menu Foods products. Talk about feverishly fast. It’s not reasonable to believe that there was “conflicting information” about problems in your pet food. Nothing is inconclusive about the connection between Menu Foods products and dead pets in your own labs.
We demonstrated our responsibility to our customers, the pet food industry and pet owners, by acting with diligence and speed.
Let’s go over your recall timeline. The Menu Foods recall is first announced on March 16 and on March 19, 6 more brands are added and one is removed from the Menu Foods recall list. On March 20, 2 more brands are added and Canadian brands are added to the Menu Foods recall list. On April 5, Menu Foods expands recall dates. On April 10, the recall is expanded due to the contamination of Canadian plant. On April 17, Menu Foods expands the recall again. On May 3, the recall is expanded again. And finally on May 22, Menu Foods adds two more brands that should have been included in the May 2nd recall. Your recall expanded over two months. Yes, true diligence and speed.
In fact, even before contaminated wheat gluten was identified as the possible source of the problems, we suspended its use out of an abundance of caution.
It’s very suspicious that Menu Foods suspended the wheat gluten supply while you claim that your firm didn’t know the source of the problem.
In fact â€“ and I will emphasize this â€“ Menu Foodsâ€™ first recall was more than two weeks before any other manufacturer initiated their recall.
And weeks and possibly months after pets were dying. Almost a month after Menu Foods said that they received the first complaint. Up to three months after reports say that complaints about the cuts and gravy style pet food were being made to your company.
We have implemented new procedures and processes that will help reinforce the confidence in Menu Foods shown by our customers over the years.
Please enlighten us on these new procedures and processes.
Let me talk briefly about our industry and regulatory relations going forward. This company â€“ or any company for that matter â€“ cannot realistically protect itself against every conceivable threat â€“ whether accidental or deliberate.
Perhaps you can protect yourself against your company’s own greed. If it’s too cheap to be safe, it probably is.
I also want to thank the vast majority of our customers who recognized that we were not responsible for this situation and who have stuck with us
throughout this difficult time.
We politely request names and numbers of these customers who continue to put faith in Menu Foods. Now.
Here is the full transcript. (PDF file)