Jerky treats from China have made news headlines again because more pups have lost their lives. We decided it was time to learn why this keeps happening. What we found is certainly eye-opening and scary.
For those of you who might be asking if we use Chinese jerky in our treats, the answer is a resounding NO! One of our signature treats has beef jerky but it’s handcrafted and locally sourced from a small company in rural Michigan.
Speaking of beef, let’s begin. Remember when the little old lady in the Wendy's commercial asked “where’s the beef” she just wanted a bigger burger. Today, that same question leads us all the way to China.
Beef is one of the commodities in a high-stakes trade deal between the U.S. and China and may indirectly be responsible for thousands of dogs dying in this country and Australia. Chinese poultry, the other commodity, is likely the killing agent.
As of May 1, 2014, the FDA has received almost 5,000 complaints of illness in pets that ate chicken, duck or sweet potato jerky treats, nearly all of which are imported from China.
The reports involve more than 5,600 dogs, 24 cats, three people and include 1,000 canine deaths.
This is a complicated and twisted tale that raises many other questions like why the U.S. continues to import these products or why can’t top-notch FDA specialists figure out the cause. There’s more to this story and if chickens could talk, maybe we’d have those answers.
In the past ten years, there has been a dramatic increase in the import of pet food from China. That’s because people in China prefer dark meat poultry which leaves a massive amount of light meat available for export.
From 2003 to 2011, the volume of pet food exports to the U.S. from China has grown 85-fold. Nearly 86 million pounds of pet food came from China in 2011 alone. What’s more, pet treats, including jerky, are now the fastest growing segment of the pet food market.
In January 2013, chicken jerky recalls were sparked by the New York State Department of Agriculture when they found some products adulterated with antibiotics that are banned in the U.S. as well as amantadine, an antiviral and anti-parkinsonian medication.
Manufacturing Plant Corruption
After inspecting five high volume jerky producing plants in China, the FDA identified one that falsified documents regarding their use of glycerin. Why is this significant? It’s because glycerin is a toxic by-product in making biodiesel fuel and it has been found in nearly every Chinese jerky treat’s list of ingredients.
Got your chemistry book handy? Glycerin is a sugar and filler. It’s classified as a humectant which means it absorbs water or moisture. It’s used in pet treats so the manufacturer can sell you the weight in water. Glycerin binds the water so as to disguise the water as a solid treat or food, and inhibit mold growth. To make a food soft, moist or semi-moist, glycerin makes up about 10-18% of the product. It’s about 60% as sweet as sugar so the treat maker benefits since dogs can taste sweetness.
Now it’s time to grab that economics book. Right now there is an extraordinary amount of biofuel glycerin coming into the market since one gallon of biodiesel yields one pound of glycerin. At this rate, the glycerin market is forced to find new uses for this product. Animal food is where it’s being dumped.
Below are some of the brand names that contain glycerin:
- Beggin’ Strips
- Beneful (Baked Delights and Snackin’ Slices)
- Bil-Jac (liver treats for dogs and Gooberlicious)
- Blue Buffalo (Blue Bits, Blue Bites, Blue Stix, Super Bars, Blue Bones, Wild Bites, Blue Wilderness Wild Bites)
- Blue Dog Bakery (Softies, Perfect Trainers)
- Buddy Biscuits (Soft and Chewy, Chewy Tricky Trainers)
- Busy Bones
- Canyon Creek Ranch
- Carolina Prime
- Cesar Treats
- Dentastix (from Pedigree)
- Good Bites (from Pedigree)
- Halo (Spot’s Chew)
- Milo’s Kitchen
- Pur Luv (Chewy Bites, Little Trix, Grande Bones)
- Purina Pro Plan (various treats including Roasted Slices)
- Real Meat Jerky Treats (Jerky Bites, Bitz, Long Stix, Large Bitz)
- Solid Gold (Beef Jerky, Turkey Jerky, Lamb Jerky, Tiny Tots)
- Waggin Train
- Wellness (Wellpet, Wellbites)
- Zukes (Hip Action, Natural Purrz, Jerky Naturals, Mini Naturals)
Natural vs. Natural Glycerin
Until recently, most glycerin for pet food was produced as a byproduct of soap making and considered safe for pet consumption. Pet food makers that use soap glycerin try to distinguish their products by calling it “natural." Buyer beware because bio-diesel glycerin is also categorized as “natural” but it’s not been approved by the FDA yet.
Here’s another interesting fact. According to FoodandWaterWatch.org (a consumer advocacy organization) there are no reports of pet illness or death linked to the same jerky treats in Europe. What’s different? Both the U.S. and Australia use irradiation – the process of exposing food to ionizing radiation to destroy microbes. The problem is it doesn’t successfully destroy all of them and can alter the food. From the OrganicConsumers.org website: “Studies show that animals fed with irradiated food have shown increased tumors, reproductive failures and kidney damage.
Symptoms reported by pet owners include gastrointestinal, liver, kidney and urinary disease.
About 10% of the illnesses included neurologic, dermatologic, and immunologic symptoms and about 15 percent tested positive for Fanconi syndrome – a rare and fatal kidney disease.
Incredibly, even with all the media coverage over the years, there are still pet parents that are totally unaware of the jerky treat situation. Otherwise, how could they knowingly continue to buy the foreign jerky? Maybe it’s because manufacturers don’t have to list the country of origin for each ingredient used in their products which means they still may be sourced from China.
Or, they just don’t get it. Nina Leigh Krueger, head of Purina’s recalled Waggin ‘Train brand, said they had thousands of customers calling for it to be back on store shelves.
So Purina re-launched the treat, now including two varieties made in the U.S. “We still produce our Chicken Jerky Tenders in China but we now get our chicken there from a single U.S.-owned supplier which oversees the process from egg through to treat,” said Bill Cooper, Nestle Purina’s vice president of manufacturing. He declined to name the supplier but said the company now routinely tests for 40 types of antibiotics.
Due to consumer pressure, PetSmart and Petco will ban all treats from China by year end 2015.
Processing in China
Food Safety News just revealed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will soon allow U.S. chickens to be sent to China for processing before being shipped back to the states for human consumption. Considering that there are no plans to station on-site USDA inspectors at these subpar Chinese plants, it’s disturbing to say the least. Also, consumers won’t know which brands of chicken are processed in China because there’s no requirement to label it as such.
I hope this article has raised awareness of what’s going on in the pet industry. Personally, I was blown away by what I discovered. I recommend reading the Hearing on the Threat of China’s Unsafe Consumables by Patty Lovera, Assistant Director of Food and Water Watch dated May 8, 2013 for a good overview. http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/china_house_testimony_may_2013.pdf
We want you to know that Arrfscarf will continue to source locally and maintain close relationships with our vendors. Our goal has always been and always will be to give your pups the very best.
Until now, who would have imagined that jerky could be the tipping point for economic trade disaster and personal tragedy. It’s certainly a story of international intrigue. But as we found out, the real story is not about jerky, chickens, or even dogs. It’s all about money and there’s only one way to fight back. Voting with your purchasing dollars. Buy local and U.S. made products.