Johannesburg - Non-compliant pet food sales are increasing, putting pets and their owners at risk.
That’s the warning from the Pet Food Industry Association of South Africa, after noting a growing number of complaints about mixed and decanted pet foods on the market.
The association says during tough times, many pet owners are downgrading their animals’ foods but if the origin of that food is not known, it may put their animals’ - and their own - health at risk.
Last week, it was reported 45 US pet owners in 13 states caught salmonella from pig ear dog treats. It’s unclear whether the owners themselves developed a curious appetite for the chewy pet snacks, or were infected by touching the ears and then touching their mouths. It’s also not known if any dogs got sick.
Twelve of these pet owners were hospitalised, prompting a multi-state investigation by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health officials are now urging pet owners to wash their hands thoroughly after touching their pets’ food, and not to mix their pets’ feeding bowls with their own.
In South Africa, the Pet Food Industry Association says it noted reports of pet food scooped out of skips at the roadside and sold on the informal market.
In some cases, it appears as though the mixed bags are made up of factory sweepings, which is effectively waste and dirt from the production process.
The Pet Food Industry Association of Southern Africa (PFISA) says supporting sales of this nature is supporting sale of stolen goods, somehow acquired through manipulation of the pet food manufacturers' waste management process.
The association warns that not only does decanting and repackaging expose the product to the elements, promote oxidation and increase the chance of mould and contamination, but risks of mycotoxin infestation, listeria and salmonella are also increased. With raw food, there have been instances of cats contracting tuberculosis, and their owners too.
And, since pet foods are often stored and prepared in the same spaces as human meals, the entire family is put at risk when bringing such foods into the home.
Without the original packaging there’s no quality assurance, no traceability and no record of a best before date.
Dominique Kuhlmann, the general manager at the PFISA, says there’s a common misperception that pet foods regulation is lax.
“Pet foods are regulated under the Fertilisers, Farm Feeds, Agricultural Remedies and Stock Remedies Act of 1947 by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries,” she explains.
“The regulations stipulate that pet food must firstly be registered and its registration number must appear on the packaging. This assures the pet owner that the formulation has been scrutinised and meets the basic nutritional requirements of the pet. In addition to this, every product must display the guaranteed analysis, ingredients list and feeding guidelines.
“By placing the pet food into different packaging, the consumer is denied this essential information. Also, mixing of foods is not recommended, since each food is unique in its formulation, and is formulated to meet basic nutritional requirements. When foods are mixed, one cannot be sure of the nutrient make-up.”
Kuhlmann says they haven’t received complaints yet, but have discovered on social media, such as Facebook’s Marketplace, and on roadsides that pet food was being sold from skips.
“Those pellets appeared to be waste from industry so it would point to someone’s waste management processes being compromised.”
Bigger brand manufacturers are very compliant with the law, she says - some hire suppliers to take their waste away to be incinerated and even hire third-party security companies to follow the destruction process.
“When a manufacturer joins us (membership isn’t mandatory), they show commitment that pets receive nutritious foods and we know that the foods have been checked. At the moment we are not testing due to budget constraints, but we let the inspectorate know when they need to follow up.
“They look to us for help, instead of testing at manufacturers that we know to be highly compliant.”
But when pet owners buy treats, there’s no certainty about what goes into the products because those are often not labelled.
“When you buy treats - like pig ears - you have no idea what is in them or how they are prepared, how long they have been sitting on the shelves. We do need to know that the treats are registered so the formulations are checked.”
* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected], tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.