In November 2011, after received mounting complaints from pet owners who claimed their dogs had died after eating chicken jerky treats made in China, the FDA issued a cautionary update on dried chicken jerky, tenders, strips and treats made for dogs.

While the FDA investigated these complaints, it advised consumers on August 15 to feed their pets chicken jerky products only occasionally and in small quantities. Though 1000 dogs sickened or died, the agency failed to cite any specific brands of pet treats to avoid. NBC News was less bashful and announced the major brands that were tied to the complaints. Top of the list was Nestle Purina which was responsible for more than half of the FDA’s 22 “Priority 1” cases with its’ Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch jerky treats that were actually manufactured by JOC Great Wall Corp. Ltd. of Nanjing, China.  (Priority 1 cases involve animals younger than 11 with documented illnesses.) Also named was the Del Monte Corp with three Priority Ones — dogs that had consumed their Milo’s Kitchen Home-style Dog Treats, also produced in China

When the FDA inspected several facilities in China producing chicken jerky products, it found falsified records involving a jerky ingredient, glycerin, but no hard evidence linking the facilities with the pet’s illnesses.

The case resembled the 2007 recall of 60 million packages of pet food that had also been imported from China, in that no initial cause could at first link China to the pet deaths. It took deeper investigation to ferret out that earlier culprit, which turned out to be melamine, an industrial contaminant that seems to turn up again and again in foods made in China.

In 2008 melamine-contaminated milk killed 6 Chinese babies and sickened 300,00. A New York Times on the scene report of China’s shadowy melamine scrap world makes for chilling reading. It also gives an inkling into the scary thinking of food, feed and chemical producers in China. Melamine is coal that’s processed into plastics and fertilizer. The leftover melamine scrap is sold to agriculture entrepreneurs who grind it into powder and mix it with animal feed — or milk or pet food or ice cream or whatever. They do it for three reasons. Melamine mimics protein, costs TONS less than real food fillers and lines Chinese pockets with bigger profits.

I have no idea if melamine is involved with the current chicken jerky scare. When it comes to the Chinese, however, there doesn’t seem to be anything that’s too bizarre or awful producers won’t do to food to cut themselves fatter slices of the profit pie. Also included in the Time’s article were some Chinese food scandals new to me: soy sauce made of human hair, cuttlefish soaked in writing ink to intensify its’ color and eels fed contraceptive pills to make them grow long and slender. With no fear of libel charges from China, the article simply states, “the country has had a terrible food safety record.”

In this current case, the USA is not blameless either. Because of major outbreaks of bird flu in China and slaughterhouses that don’t meet USDA inspection requirements, not a single morsel of chicken from China is allowed into this country for human consumption. Yet we are feeding that same dubious chicken to our family pets, offering man’s best friend chicken “treats” that may end up killing them.

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