Monday, March 26, 2007

Worried about Pet Food? You ain't the only one

I've been away from the blog for a bit. It's been a rough birthday month, but I promise to write more. There's at least one person out there who's been asking about the blog. You know who you are, Greenspend.

As you can see, Paikea has been on the Internet (or at least on my computer) since she first heard the news of the massive recall of dog and cat food that happened on Friday, March 16th. Paikea and I (OK, let's face it, just me) were a bit concerned that the company, Menu Foods, put the notice out on a Friday, the traditional day when news that one wishes to die upon release, is released. That may be a tad unfair, but seriously, Friday is not the day to issue news that your pets may be in danger.

Due to a self-imposed news media blackout last weekend, we didn't hear about the recall until Monday morning, just like many vets and pet health care workers. Unfortunately, vets, being on the front line of care when it comes to ill pets, received no special faxes or broadcast messages in their mailboxes to be on the alert for illness, death, or both.

To say that Menu Foods (a Canadian conglomerate company traded under the name Menu Foods Income Fund) handled this recall badly is to bring light to the obvious. Last Friday, they sent their news release out in Canada with the notice "not for publication over US newswires." When that release went out, there was little or no indication of what the problem was, how whatever was in the food could cause harm, and their website was stripped of all information except for the list of recalled foods and the admonition that only "cuts and gravy" style foods were affected.

I was going to write more on this subject, but truthfully, it's all been too much this week. Almost the moment I came back from Detroit to attend Brandon's funeral, I confronted horrific wall of animal death. The week brought up so many memories of Zanzibar "wonder girl" kitty dying, that my heart was bursting for all those who were losing their dogs and cats left and right. I felt so helpless for all those Gothamist commenters writing about their animals. I felt hopeless as the good folks at Petconnection, who earlier in the week set up a self-reporting database of sick and dying dogs and cats, reported their database numbers, which grew daily. The worse part of that was consistently hearing day after day (which continues) that "only 16" pets had died from eating tainted food. No one who even read one page of comments in one source could believe that only 16 animals had died.

The silence over the week from both the FDA and Menu Foods was deafening. I would like to say they did a good job, but I would be lying. Thankfully, the Internet came through. In addition to, the Howl911 site popped up, acting as a clearinghouse for information that just wasn't coming from the company or the government. Itchmo in Seattle (a pet blog on the West Coast) and Catmanager (a vet and vet industry blog) took up the battle as well. The Yahoo pet care groups I'm on gathered their own sources and helped members get through it. I'm sure there are hundreds of other sites that helped out, but I am unaware of them. (Notice that I didn't mention the ASPCA or the Humane Society, major pet and advocates groups which did not step up to the plate this week.)

The four sites are to be commended for their work this week. Thousands of people were desparately seeking information on what foods were recalled, what the onset of symptoms were, what to feed their animals... and there was no help or information coming from Menu Foods or the major food companies they manufacture for. In fact, the vet site has produced its "Second Annual Pet Food Recall Awards" (the first was awarded to Diamond Foods' recall last year). They pretty much nail what was right and what was wrong in this situation for the past week.

To all of who are suffering with the thought that they may have fed their animals tainted food, really, it's not your fault. To those whose pets died, my sincere condolences to you. To all those whose pets are sick, I wish them all a speedy recovery. To those who are searching for the right foods to feed to your dogs and cats, I hope this opportunity affords you the chance to learn more about dog and cat nutrition.

To Menu Foods, I hope this last week has taught you that you need to step up your game in public relations. It's best to talk to the people on a wide-scale basis than let others talk for you. I'm still a little ticked at the timeline. If it's right according to news sources, you've got a lot of barking and meowing to do in explanation of the last three months of food production. We'll see.

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