Pet owners find lack of chicken jerky recall, FDA warning unacceptable

A class action lawsuit is filed against manufacturers who maintain the products, made in China, are safe.
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Sep 01, 2012

A class action lawsuit that began with Chicago-area dog owner Dennis Adkins—who claimed his 9-year-old Pomeranian died as a result of eating Nestlé Purina's Waggin' Train Yam Good dog treats—is expanding. The federal suit added seven pet owners from across the country and may join with another lawsuit filed in federal court by a Connecticut family in June. The suit also expands its targets, naming not just Waggin' Train LLC, a manufacturer of the product; Nestlé Purina Petcare Co., the corporation that owns Waggin' Train LLC; and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the distributor, but also Target and Costco as defendants.

Despite mounting complaints, Federal Department of Agriculture (FDA) testing and the lawsuit, Nestlé Purina has yet to issue a voluntary recall of its Waggin' Train and Canyon Creek Ranch brands. Milo's Kitchen Home-style Dog Treats, produced by the Del Monte Corp., are also in question.

After the lawsuit was first filed, Keith Schopp, spokesperson for Nestlé Purina and Waggin' Train, stated, "We believe the claims made in the lawsuit to be without merit and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves. We can say that Waggin' Train products continue to be safe to feed as directed."

Allegations include breach of implied and express warranty, consumer and common law fraud, unjust enrichment, negligence and strict products liability with defective design or manufacture and failure to warn. The lawsuit states that although Nestlé Purina and Waggin' Train received complaints of more than 500 incidents in which dog treats containing chicken jerky imported from China caused dogs to become sick or die, they continued to market their product as being "wholesome" and placed no warnings concerning the product on the packaging. It also states that Nestlé Purina and Waggin' Train knew there was a substantial risk of death or harm associated with its treats and intentionally concealed known facts concerning the safety of the dog treats in order to increase or maintain sales.

When asked if Nestlé Purina plans to issue a voluntary recall in light of the lawsuit and a recently reissued FDA warning in regard to chicken jerky products in July, Schopp replied via email on July 31 and pointed to information in the Waggin' Train brand "FAQ" section of its website. The FAQ reads, in part, that "the FDA has clearly stated that after extensive testing, scientists have been unable to determine a definitive cause for the reported illnesses."

Yet since testing began in 2007, the FDA continues to conduct laboratory tests on chicken jerky products imported from China as complaints of dog illnesses continue to rise. According to Tamara Ward of the FDA Public Affairs office, as of July 31, the FDA has logged 1,800 reports—1,500 sick dogs and 300 reports of death—associated with the chicken jerky products.

Some consumers are demanding a ban on the products, creating websites and an online petition to "Ban all poisonous chicken jerky treats imported from China," which has more than 18,000 signatures. Several pet owners who have signed the online petition and are part of the class action lawsuit claim their dogs died as a result of symptoms associated with the product.

According to the FDA, clinical signs that may be associated with the dried chicken jerky products—sold as tenders, strips and treats—include decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood), increased water consumption and increased urination. Signs may manifest within hours to days of ingestion. Laboratory tests may indicate kidney problems, including increased urea nitrogen and creatinine levels, and urine tests may reveal high glucose levels.

The FDA has stated that despite ongoing complaints and apparent illness, the agency could not issue a recall at this time. "Unless a contaminant is detected and we have evidence that a product is adulterated, we are limited in what regulatory actions we can take. The regulations don't allow for products to be removed based on complaints alone. This is an ongoing investigation and FDA will notify the public if a recall is initiated. Currently, FDA continues to urge pet owners to use caution with regard to chicken jerky products."

Schopp says pet owners should limit consumption of the dog treats. "They're meant to be fed as treats, as part of a complete and balanced diet," Schopp wrote in an email. "As with all dog treats, consumers are reminded to read and follow the feeding guidelines on the package."

For information on how to report a complaint, go to fda.gov/petfoodcomplaints. To see the petition, go to http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/901/169/744/.