The food imports from China are significantly growing in the US. Between 2001 and 2008, the quantity of food imports from China has tripled in the US making China the third largest source of food imports in the country. USA spends billions of dollars every year in importing foods from China. Apart from importing some select vegetables, fish and seafood for humans, USA also imports dog treats from China. Statistics show that in last ten years, especially between the periods of 2003-2011, the volume of pet food imported from China to USA has increased by 85% (Huehnergarth, 2014). In 2011 alone, about 86 million pounds of pet food was imported from China. However, in recent years, the unfortunate number of dog deaths has created a buzz in the US raising a question regarding the safety of imported food products from China. Though the cause of the canine deaths is yet to be determined, the initial investigation carried out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reveals that most of the reports related to the sickness in pets that the FDA received in past years implicates the imported dog treats from China, especially the chicken, duck or sweet potato jerky treats (EcoWatch, 2014). The failure of the Chinese government in ensuring the food safety standard is not a new phenomenon as a number of human and animal casualties owing to food contamination take place in China every year. It is, therefore, totally unsafe to keep importing pet treats from China, a country which cannot keep even human foods safe from repeated adulteration. This paper would discuss that the US should stop importing the Chinese-made pet treats because of the recurring food safety issues with China, non-compliance with the food safety standard of USA, China’s lack of cooperation in the investigation and the US being capable of manufacturing the pet treats. Besides, the continuation of importing pet treats could lead to the consequence of more number of such incidents of animal deaths.
The Issue of Mysterious Dog Deaths in Detail
Before delving deep into the reasons why the import of pet treats from China should be banned, it is important to give an account of the issue in hand in detail. For the last 7 years, the FDA has received several complaints regarding the imported food products of China. As per the report of the FDA, it has received over 4,800 complaints related to the sickness of pets that consumed jerky treats, most of which were imported from China. The complaints involve the sickness of over 5,600 dogs, 24 felines, three human beings including two children who ate the treats accidentally, and the deaths of over 1,000 dogs (EcoWatch, 2014). According to the report of the FDA, the illnesses have afflicted dogs of many breeds, sizes and ages. 60% of the dogs are found to have symptoms related to gastrointestinal sickness, 30% to urinary or kidney related ailment, and the remaining 10% showed a variety of symptoms including skin irritation, convulsions, hives and tremors (FDA #1, 2014).
The initial investigation of the FDA has revealed that the pet treats consumed by the sick and dead dogs contained a couple of unnecessary additives including antibiotics that were banned in the US and an antiviral named amantadine, but the symptoms showed by the sick dogs did not match with the side effects of amantadine. Megan Bensette, a FDA spokesperson, said that they performed an array of tests on the pet treats including the analysis tests for salmonella, rodenticide, radiation, mold and heavy metals, but the results were inconclusive (Becker, 2013). The FDA even performed necropsies on 26 dead dogs who consumed jerky treats. The causes of death found in half of the dogs were not related to the consumption of jerky treats, but in the other half of the dogs, there could be a relationship between jerky treats and their deaths (FDA #1, 2014). However, the FDA could not reach any definitive conclusion for the cause of the canine deaths. In collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the FDA is now trying to gather conclusive evidence related to the cause of the canine deaths. The CDC with its expertise is trying to help the FDA in a study in which the diet of sick dogs that ate jerky treats is compared with a healthy group of dogs.
Recurring Food Safety Problem in Chinese Products
In view of the issue detailed above, it seems, as of now, every point of finger is raised against the imported jerky treats of China for causing the canine deaths, regardless of the lack of any conclusive evidence. Though it is yet to be determined how the treats got contaminated, and how the treats could harm the dogs and pets that consumed them, one thing is clear and that is the food safety problems of China. This is not the first time that China came into the limelight for a problem related to its food safety standard. In 2007, for example, a large number of pet deaths were reported in USA, and the investigation later pointed out to Chinese producers who supplied contaminated ingredients to USA, and when those ingredients were used in pet food, pets started dying in epidemic proportion, and it was feared that those ingredients could have made way into the supply of human food too. Though initially the Chinese government refused to admit that the cause of pet death was due to their export of contaminated products, they later acknowledged that the ingredients they exported to USA contained the prohibited chemical called melamine (MacLeod, 2007). There are many other incidents of similar nature involving China, and it shows that the Chinese food safety standard is not at par with that of the USA. Hence, it is high time when the US must plan of banning the import of pet food from China.
Non-compliance with the Safety Standard
Besides, USA maintains a particular safety standard for its food production. When the products are manufactured in a foreign location, it becomes difficult to ensure that the suppliers who import the products to USA are complying with the high safety standard and tight quality control as expected by the US consumers (FDA#2, 2012). For example, in its investigation as regards the cause of dog deaths from eating pet treats, FDA inspected five Chinese plants between the months of March and April in 2012. The jerky treats produced by these firms were identified with the highest number of pet treats that ailed the dogs. The FDA during its investigation found out that one of these firms falsified its documents related to the use of glycerin (FDA#2, 2012). Further investigation showed that almost all the jerky treats' list of ingredients had the name glycerin mentioned. The use of glycerin could be a real cause of concern because it is a toxic byproduct that is used for making biodiesel fuel. The glycerin that comes out as a byproduct during biodiesel yields is not approved by the FDA yet. It is highly probable that the toxic glycerin used in the production of pet treats could be a cause of death. The falsification of documents related to the use of glycerin by the Chinese manufacturer of pet treats shows how the manufacturing firms in China do not comply with the food safety standard of USA. It also exposes the vulnerability in the system in which the welfare of the American people are at the mercy of these fraudulent manufacturers who brazenly used an ingredient, not yet approved by the FDA, in its pet treats.
Lack of Cooperation from China
Another reason why the import of dog treats should be stopped is because of the unwillingness of the Chinese government and the Chinese companies to recall their products voluntarily. The Chinese government is extremely uncooperative in the investigation of any such matter. Recently, when a California based Congressman Representative Jerry McNerney wrote a mail asking the Chinese government to consider halting the production of chicken jerky treats while the investigation into contamination issue is being carried out by the FDA; he received a negative reply from China (Becker, 2013). Not only China refused to stop the production of the treats, it expressed grievance and criticized the action of the FDA for putting up an advisory alert about the imported treats on its website. The exact words of the Chinese government were "From the perspective of the Chinese side, there might be something wrong with the FDA's investigation guidance" (Becker, 2013). But since the Chinese government does not recall the flawed products from the market voluntarily, FDA has no option other than alerting public through advisory notices till any conclusive result derives from the global investigation, which is a time-taking and complex process involving a lot of people including epidemiologists, toxicologists, forensic chemists, veterinary researchers, senior agency officials and field investigators. Due to the reluctance of the Chinese government to recall their exported pet treats, many US based pet food retailers like PETCO and Pet Smart are taking the Chinese-manufactured dog and cat treats off the store shelves in fear of contamination.
Production could be done in USA
It has been five years when the first report of dying and sick dogs came into the news, but still today the cause of dog deaths has been elusive. Taking into account the complex and time-taking process of global investigation, it would take another few years for the FDA to determine the cause of deaths (Becker, 2013). Meanwhile, the US will have the jerky treats as well as the tainted ingredients, that were used in making some other treats that ailed the dogs, imported into the country because the production of the treats is still in full swing by most of the big pet food companies and are sold by big retailers. In order to deter the recurrence of the issue related to the tainted pet treats and the consequence of pet deaths, it is about time when the US should begin relying on its homegrown products. Instead of importing pet foods from China, USA can manufacture them within the country itself. Furthermore, the ingredients that are to be used for making the treats should be homegrown too because the FDA investigation has found out a correlation between the dog deaths and the treats that have used ingredients produced in China. The lack of transparency from the part of Chinese manufacturers as regards the vendors they collect the material from also adds to the problem (Becker, 2013). If the tainted pet treats would have been homegrown, it would have been easier for the FDA to identify the problem and an immediate action could be taken to remove the products from the market.
The continuation of the US reliance in importing pet treats from China could have far-reaching consequences in near future. The repeated recurrence of such issues shows that the increased reliance of USA on Chinese products could lead to more number of such unfortunate incidents in which the lives of innocents would be at stake. Taking into account the pet treat recall of 2007 by China, it is surprising that USA is still allowing the import of Chinese made pet feed into the country. Due to the contamination of animal feed with melamine in 2007, thousands of animals were affected. Though the confirmed cases of animal deaths were only 14, but the FDA had received complaints regarding the deaths of at least 8,500 animals in 2007 (Hirsch, 2014). Despite the deaths of animals by such large numbers from eating animal feed contaminated with Chinese made ingredients, China did not improve the food safety regulations in the country. Such lackadaisical attitude of China may not only affect pets but could affect humans too. For example, in 2007, there was a widespread fear that the melamine tainted ingredients could have entered the food for humans too as those ingredients were used for the production of human foods as well.
At present, for humans, USA imports a number of select fish and sea food from China, but it has a ban imposed on the import of China-processed poultry because of the failure of the Chinese government to enforce the food safety laws and regulations properly. China cannot even ensure food safety for its citizens, and every year, we get to hear about a number of people dying in China owing to issues having evolved owing to its food safety problems. The food safety laws and regulations are so weak that even repeated incidents of babies dying after feeding contaminated baby formula make news in China. Shocking incidents of baby feed adulterated with melamine or high amount of mercury sickening more than 300,000 children, rat meat being sold as lamb and 46 years old chemically enhanced chicken feet being sold to customers are not new in China (Huehnergarth, 2014).
Considering that the foods sold in China are not safe for its own citizens including the newborns, it brings doubt in mind as to how safe the products being manufactured for pets would be. In a country where the value of human life is so little that the products made for human consumption are so frequently counterfeited, contaminated and poisoned, and the government still does not take any constructive action, it raises question how much value the government would attach to the production of pet treats meant to be exported to another country. The statement made by Gu Junhua, who works in the Ministry of Agriculture at the national quality check center for feed, that China does not have "any food safety criteria for pets in terms of the quality and quantity of each element of the ingredients” used for food production, only reinforces the casualness with which the Chinese government deals with the food safety issues for pets (Hirsch, 2014). Hence, it is only but natural that if USA continues the import of pet treats from China, more number of such animal casualties would take place.
In recent times, a large number of canine deaths from eating pet treats have made the headlines in USA. Though the actual cause of the canine deaths is yet to be determined, the initial investigation implicates the imported pet treats of China as the likely culprit. Taking into account that it is not the first time China came into the limelight for problems related to its food safety, it is high time when the US should consider stopping the import of pet treats from China. The Chinese government has repeatedly failed in complying with the food standard expected by the US consumers. Besides, China is completely uncooperative in the matters of investigation, and its lack of transparency obfuscates investigation to a great degree. The growing reliance of USA on Chinese products could lead to more number of such incidents where the lives of innocent people and animals would be at stake. China is a country that cannot even enforce food safety laws for the welfare of its own citizens. It is, therefore, highly unlikely that China would take any action in strengthening its food safety regulations for products meant to be consumed by pets. A ban on the import of China-made pet treats is the only solution left to deter the repetition of such unfortunate incidents of animal casualties in the future.
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