April 27, 2009
FDA denies Nutro investigation despite reports indicating otherwise
News outlets retract stories that link pet food to adverse reactions, including death
By: Jennifer Fiala
For The VIN News Service
News reports and rumors are swirling about a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) examination into the safety of Nutro Pet Foods, but the agency is denying any investigation in an effort to clear the company’s name.
“Nutro is not under investigation,” says Laura Alvey, deputy director of communications with FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.
Word that FDA is looking into Nutro in response reports that the food is sickening dogs and cats surfaced with an April 20 article on Consumer Affairs’ Web site. The story, authored by freelance journalist Lisa Wade McCormick, stated that FDA confirmed it was investigating Nutro following “a series of unexplained deaths” and years of consumer complaints.
In a VIN News Service interview, McCormick explained that she wrote the article after receiving a letter in which George A. Strait Jr., assistant commissioner for FDA Public Affairs, denied her Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) for information on Nutro lab results and complaints. The March 30 letter states that the denial was issued because such documents “could reasonably be expected to interfere with law enforcement proceedings.”
What does that mean? McCormick says she followed up with FDA and was told by an anonymous source that her request was denied because there is an ongoing investigation.
“If you’ve dealt with FDA, you don’t expect that answer,” McCormick says. “I wanted to hear it again. They said it could be civil or criminal. I asked if they could tell me the nature of it, and they said no. When they tell me multiple times, I’ve got to believe them.”
Yet a report from a Nutro official contradicts that exchange. In a statement to the VIN News Service, spokeswoman Monica Barrett writes: “We have confirmed with the FDA’s division responsible for regulating pet food, the Center for Veterinary Medicine, that there is no current or ongoing investigation of Nutro Products, Inc. ... All Nutro products undergo rigorous quality assurance testing beginning with raw ingredients and ending with testing finished products. This includes testing to confirm that no melamine, mold toxins or pathogenic bacteria are detected in any Nutro pet foods.”
She adds that the Consumer Affairs Web site has been drawing false links between isolated instances of illness and death among pets and the consumption of Nutro foods for more than a year.
Still, McCormick says that from what she’s hearing, something is amiss regarding Nutro’s line of dog and cat foods.
“I think it would be a good thing for Nutro to stand up and say, we’re going to look into this more closely.”
Consumer Affairs Editor in Chief James R. Hood agrees, especially since the Web site reportedly has received more than 640 consumer complaints about Nutro products.
“All of our content is driven by what we hear from consumers,” he says. “Where there’s smoke, there must be something.”
Hood adds: “Let me point out that Nutro has changed the topic of this story, and turned it into a debate about whether or not they’re being investigated by FDA. The real question is why these pets have gotten sick. The real question is, ‘is there a problem with Nutro?’”
While a few reports making the possible link between adverse medical events and the consumption of Nutro foods exist on Veterinary Information Network (VIN) discussion boards, VIN members did not respond with examples when asked by the VIN News Service for cases.
CNN, one of the many news outlets that reported the Consumer Affairs story, has since issued an on-air clarification. “The FDA tells CNN that Consumer Affairs is wrong and it’s not investigating Nutro.”
Editor's Note: This article is an edited version of its original, omitting an incorrect statement attributing articles linking microchips and cancer in pets to online media outlet Consumer Affairs (http://www.consumeraffairs.com). The VIN News Service regrets the error.
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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