The Friday news wrap-up: It’s all one food chain, folks

June 19, 2009

NPR calls them “driveway moments” — those pieces you have to hear the end of so you stay in the car even after you get home and keep listening. Usually this is because the piece is especially interesting or compelling, but in the case of the interview with the new FDA boss, I stayed in my car just hoping she’d say something, anything with some substance.

It was not to be.

The interview had been teased with a mention of the pet-food recall, which NPR characterized as having “sickened” pets, which is true only if you grant that most organisms “sicken” before, you know, actually dying, which is what thousands of pets did, NPR’s glossing over aside.

New FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg batted away the question about the pet-food recall’s core issue — the fraudulent substitution of melamine by foreign companies in order to game the protein readings — by acknowledging the challenges the agency faces with globalization and her intent to modernize.

To be fair, Dr. Hamburg has a good reputation and she just started the job. And of course, this is just one interview. But frankly, I would have liked to have seen a little more  determination, a little more acknowledgment that the FDA as it exists today is a shadow of the consumer-protection firebrand it once was — if not an outright servant of the industries it’s supposed to regulate — and how she was going to change that.

After all, we know tobacco kills, and that shouldn’t be news to the anyone including the FDA, which just got handed the task of regulating tobacco products. What we shouldn’t have to worry about killing us or our pets is the food we buy.

Here’s the interview.


Dr. Marion Nestle always stresses what we have said on this blog from the first day of the pet-food recall: This isn’t about “pet food” vs. “people food”: It’s about safe food, and it all comes from the same places.

On her “Food Politics” blog, Dr. Nestle talks about the problems with multi-nutrient supplements:

It’s hard not to think of multivitamin supplements (which also include minerals) as perfectly safe, since the amounts of specific nutrients rarely exceed recommended levels.  But according to recent reports, formulation mistakes get made and these don’t always get caught by quality controls.  Here are two examples.

According to, 25% of Adverse Event Reports (AERs) sent into the FDA last year concerned multivitamin supplements. This, says one supplement trade association, should not be interpreted to mean that there is anything wrong with the supplements.  Maybe not, but how about checking?

She then puts these findings in context of the recent recalls of Nutro. More here.


Finally and also food-related, Pet Connection BFF Dr. Patty Khuy writes about prescription pet diets on her Dolittler blog:

The concept of a “prescription only” diet has merely been a marketing success for pet food companies who label their products as such and somehow manage to have engendered a belief that a product labeled as a “Prescription Diet”… requires a prescription.

But this is NOT TRUE! There is no legal basis for requiring a prescription for a product that is NOT regulated by the FDA as a drug. Shall I repeat that or was it sufficiently clear?

Nonetheless, it IS true that any private retail establishment has the right to require a veterinarian’s say-so before you can buy ANYTHING from them. Sure, PetSmart is not about to require a written script for leashes and kitty litter, but if it wants to do business with pet food behemoths like Hills and Iams, then they’re darn well not going to tick them off by failing to follow manufacturer requirements for sale of Prescription Diets.

More here.

Filed under: media,pets, connected,recalls,veterinary medicine — Gina Spadafori @ 6:56 am


  1. E tu, chocolate chip cookies?

    “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning consumers not to eat any varieties of prepackaged Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough due to the risk of contamination with E. coli O157:H7 (a bacterium that causes food borne illness).”

    (FDA news release that just popped into my e-mail box, but is not yet on their Web site. I’ll link when it is.) Link:

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — June 19, 2009 @ 8:14 am

  2. The problem is Corporate sponsored “stories” reported by NPR and other mainstream media conglomerates always lack depth. And always fail to ignite the action required to create real change.

    Comment by Kate — June 19, 2009 @ 8:27 am

  3. I guess it is up to the veterinarians to give us prescription diets when our animal has some illness.

    Of course, we lack the intelligence to modify the diet by other means so I am so glad I can only trust my vet to prescribe the food.

    However, during the food recall period in 2007, some poisons were found in the prescribed foods, so I dunno–should I trust the vet?

    Ye gads, maybe my cats should eat some of the foods I eat. (Signed by a quandary cat nourisher.)

    Comment by Colorado Transplant — June 19, 2009 @ 9:00 am

  4. NOT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    That is going too d*** far.

    Can we start the revolution now?

    Comment by EmilyS — June 19, 2009 @ 9:28 am

  5. I’ve been leery of vitamins and minerals ever since the PFR. And it isn’t as much about formulation as it is about possible toxic ingredients. I have a hard time trusting any ingredient that’s white and powdery and I don’t know the origin of :-{ I realize they are prob tested/regulated more than food etc, but still . . . global market and all . . .

    Comment by straybaby — June 19, 2009 @ 9:30 am

  6. I used to buy Trader Joe’s vitamins and flax seed oil, because they were, well, cheaper. But, I realized, partly from reading this blog, that I had no idea where those ingredients come from. Probably China.

    So, now I buy our Coop’s house brand. Of course, I don’t know where their vitamins, etc. come from either, but I feel I can trust them more. Maybe I need to ask them and see what they say.

    We are rapidly reaching a point in which it’s going to be guilty until proven innocent if it’s processed food or comes from industrial agriculture. It’s starting to look like a systemic lack of oversight, with the predictable result of shortcuts and carelessness in pursuit of profit.

    Chocolate chip cookie dough? From a brand name? All that’s left is to wonder who and what is next.

    Comment by Susan Fox — June 19, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

  7. Right now my 13 year old cat is fighting for her life because she ate Nutro pouches 2 years ago! I am beyond angry.

    Comment by catmom5 — June 19, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

  8. On the food chain and generic/house brands, until a few years ago I worked for a subsidiary of a (now former) national wholesale grocery company. The house brands were often produced along side the popular name brands. But as we have all learned, that might be a third party contractor like Menu who gets the cheapest ingredients to be had thus we are the ones being had.

    As for chocolate chip cookie dough… make your own and refrigerate and/or freeze it to use the same way. Butter, eggs, flour, a bit of baking powder and salt, sugars and chocolate chips. Substantially less expensive than the Nestle stuff and you can add or modify to suit your own tastes.

    Comment by Moira — June 19, 2009 @ 1:25 pm

  9. I don’t blame you, catmom5.

    I used Nutro pouches and my anger never subsides. My two cats that ate the food are gone now, but the company did horrible deeds to all of our cats that ate that stuff!

    Comment by Colorado Transplant — June 19, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

  10. WTF?? Or rather ho hum, status quo…………
    “Inspection reports from a Nestle USA cookie dough factory released Friday show the company refused several times to provide Food and Drug Administration inspectors with complaint logs, pest-control records and other information.

    “Companies have the right to make conditions on what they will or will not permit during an inspection,” she said. “Some companies have a policy that they outline for the investigator at the beginning of an inspection.”

    Comment by Cathy A — June 26, 2009 @ 1:18 pm

  11. I just book the book “Food, Inc.” which is a companion to the documentary “Food, Inc.” which is playing in theatres all over the country, but hasn’t come to my area yet.

    It tells about the food industry and some of the bad practices in animal husbandry, processing food and including ingredients that are unhealthful. I am just reading the book so I am limited in what I can tell you about it.

    I was inspired to purchase the book after reading the Denver Post article about how this food editor at the Dining Out Magazine (in Denver Post) was getting sick from eating MSG, but that it was very rarely listed as an ingredient.

    Her name is Megan Nix and the article appeared in last Sunday’s Denver Post.

    I am getting sick just reading the book, especially about the animal husbandry which I might not continue reading.

    I am enjoying reading about the other parts, though–especially teaching me to buy local and leaving less of a carbon print. Great read!

    Comment by Colorado Transplant — July 14, 2009 @ 12:39 pm

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