By Jennifer Reba Edwards
Attorney and Founder
The Animal Law Center
In recent years it seems pet food issues have become commonplace. A Google search of the words “pet food recall” brings up results for a countless number of pages. The web seems abuzz with concerned consumers seeking information or sharing their pet food troubles. One begins to wonder if there is any safe pet food out there. And if the unfortunate reality is that no one can be certain that pet food is safe, what is a consumer to do when their pet has a negative reaction to pet food?
The first issue of whether there is any safe, manufactured pet food out there is a tricky one. I have always fed my animals low-production, highly-regulated, organic foods bought from small, specialty shops and supplemented that with raw meats and vegetables. As you can imagine, this can be an expensive proposition and even some of the higher-end foods have had their own issues. Evidence of this is that many of the foods recalled in the March 2007 disaster, were higher-end, “premium foods.” Pet food advertisers spent millions telling us to buy superior foods and spend more because your pet is worth every penny only to use the same cheap contaminated ingredients as those found in the budget brands. The more recently filed Canidae/Diamond class action is yet another example of this. The key seems to be to buy food that is not mass produced and made in smaller, more regulated settings.
So what happens if your pet has a negative reaction from their pet food? Perhaps the most reliable website for information for pet food issues is the FDA website. However, while the FDA website can provide recalled product information, it is not always clear what consumers can do to address the harm done to their animals. Having been involved in more than one pet food lawsuit, I wanted to give three tips for preserving your potential claims against pet food manufacturers if you believe your pet is harmed by the food you choose.
First, be sure to save not only a sample of the food, but also the actual pet food bag or container. There are a number of codes on pet food bags and containers, including lot numbers and UPC (bar) codes, that might be useful not only indentifying the product, but also giving clues as to when and where the food was produced. A quick refund from the manufacturer might be tempting, or even encouraged by manufacturers, but saving the food and the bag can be more valuable than an initial refund.
Secondly, be sure to document adequately any health issues that your pet faces because of harmful pet food. Tracking the exact date and time of symptoms, a description of the symptoms, maintaining veterinary records, and documenting costs incurred will help to demonstrate a claim for damages. Seeking the opinion of a veterinarian that is familiar with your animal, its symptoms and treatment, and the food it has consumed, can also reinforce your claims. Often veterinarians can make educated and informed opinions as to the cause of your animal’s suffering, in particular, finding that the food is likely the cause of the harm.
Last, consider testing some of the food that remains. Independent testing can be important regardless of whether the company or consumer protection agencies have also tested the food. Independent testing labs can be found on the Internet.
Defective pet food will often affect large numbers of consumers. Lawyers generally initiate class action suits against pet food manufacturers when many consumers have similar claims. While class actions can be an effective way of pursuing a large number of individual claims against manufacturers, they take a long time to litigate. The March 2007, Menu Foods lawsuit ultimately resulted in a favorable settlement of $24 million; however, to date no claims have been paid. Individuals objecting to the settlement have filed appeals, delaying distribution of the settlement funds. Until the court resolves these issues, claimants will not receive their respective share of the settlement. Thus, it can take a long time before claimants receive a remedy for their pet food troubles. Therefore, in addition to keeping complete records of any harm sustained, patience is also critical to dealing with pet food problems and any litigation that results.
Pet food issues continue to arise and there are no guarantees as to the safety of pet foods. Make sure you read labels and do your research when buying food for your furry friend. If an issue arises, be sure to maintain good records to pursue a favorable remedy.
July 6, 2009
Wheat Ridge, Colorado