April 4, 2012 at 5:48 PM ET
Federal health officials have sent inspectors into Chinese plants that make chicken jerky pet treats to investigate potential links to illnesses and deaths in hundreds of dogs in the United States, two lawmakers say.
Staffers for Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, confirmed Wednesday that Food and Drug Administration officials were conducting the inspections.
“Based on our ongoing discussions with the FDA, we are expecting important new information soon,” Vic Edgerton, a spokesman for Kucinich said in an email to msnbc.com.
It’s not clear exactly how many inspectors are involved or which plants the officials will visit as they attempt to solve the mystery behind at least 600 reports of illnesses including abrupt kidney failure after dogs have been fed chicken jerky treats made in China.
FDA officials declined to comment on the inspections.
Last month, msnbc.com reported that FDA records showed that a log of owner and veterinarian complaints of harm referenced at least three popular brands of jerky treats: Waggin’ Train, Canyon Creek Ranch and Milo’s Kitchen Home-style Dog Treats.
Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch products are produced by Nestle Purina PetCare Co. Import data compiled by the firm ImportGenius showed that those treats are produced and supplied by JOC Great Wall Corp. Ltd. of Nanjing, China.
The move comes as the FDA faces growing pressure from consumers and lawmakers to address rising numbers of illnesses blamed on the treats.
Robin Pierre, a co-founder of “Animal Parents Against Pet Treats Made in China," has collected more than 7,000 signatures urging on a petition urging the FDA to take action and more than 2,600 on a petition taking Nestle Purina to task, she said.
Pierre, 49, of Pine Bush, N.Y., believes Waggin’ Train chicken jerky treats were responsible for the sudden death last fall of her previously health 2-year-old pug, Bella, who developed kidney failure.
"While I am happy that the FDA is in China investigating now, it never should have taken this long. Too many of our innocent and voiceless companions suffered horrific deaths and many will forever be dealing with the repercussions of falling victim to corporate greed. No animal should have ever had to die because of a 'treat'", she said.
In February, Brown and Kucinich sent letters to the FDA asking the agency to step up testing and inspections of the China-made products. After a meeting with Kucinich, the FDA stepped up its investigation, spokesman said, and traveled to manufacturing facilities in China.
The FDA has issued three warnings about the treats since 2007. Agency scientists have been testing the products since then as well, analyzing the jerky treats for evidence of dangerous toxins, including heavy metals, melamine, melamine analogs and diethylene glycol, chemicals used in plastics and resins.
So far, they’ve found nothing that would lead to the kind of illnesses reported in the animals.
Keith Schopp, a spokesman for Nestle-Purina, did not immediately return calls asking about the inspections. Previously, Schopp had said the company’s treats are safe if fed as directed and that the illnesses may be a result of other causes.