Need to know
- Our open letter to government calling for mandatory pet food safety standards has the support of tens of thousands of Australians
- Our investigations have documented pet food contamination incidents going back to 2007
- In the latest incident, at least 23 dogs in Victoria have died and around 67 have been hospitalised
In late August, we asked supporters to sign an open letter to Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud, calling for the establishment of mandatory pet food safety standards in Australia.
The letter came on the back of the country's latest major pet-food contamination incident. Starting in July this year, at least 23 dogs in Victoria have died and about 67 have been hospitalised so far due to indospicine poisoning linked to contaminated horse meat sold through the Maffra District Knackery in Gippsland.
Starting in July this year, at least 23 dogs in Victoria have died and about 67 have been hospitalised
That incident, which is still unfolding, prompted the Australian Veterinary Association, the RSPCA and the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA) to join forces in a call to end "the significant delays in developing and implementing robust pet food regulation".
So far, 22,338 animal lovers have signed the open letter, with more signatures coming in every day.
Multiple cases, multiple deaths
In a CHOICE investigation in February this year about numerous cases of megaesophagus linked to Veganpet dry dog food, we included a timeline of pet contamination cases going back to 2007, including more than 100 cases of megaesophagus linked to Advance Dermocare dry dog food in recent years.
In June 2021, we profiled the case of Lynne Moorman, whose seven show cats got sick after eating Royal Canin cat kibble.
In a 2018 investigation, we focused on the case of Nina Waltman, who's convinced Royal Canin dry dog food made her Maltese Shih Tzu sick.
Paul Crawford's dog Zary was a victim of the recent Maffra knackery contamination incident, which has claimed the lives of at least 23 dogs.
'Things need to change'
Following the release of our open letter in August, we heard from a number of other pet owners whose pets had got sick or worse after eating contaminated pet food, including pets affected by the recent Maffra knackery incident.
"My dog's name was Zary and she was killed by the poison from the Maffra knackery," Paul Crawford told us. "I bought meat labelled as beef, which it clearly wasn't. My girl was only four years old. Things need to change."
Sue Graham's greyhounds Pebbles and Pash were also victims of the Maffra knackery incident.
Sue Graham's two greyhounds suffered the same fate. "From the 7th of July, when our first dog died, I have been totally educated about how little regulation there is in the pet food industry and the fact that knackeries have no regulation whatsoever," she says. "I didn't realise any of that, but I certainly do now."
Referring to the products that came from the Maffra knackery, which also trades under the brand names Backman's Meats and Backman's Greyhound Supplies, Graham says, "It never crossed my mind that there was ever going to be an issue with the meat. The meat looked really good, but it was just that one batch.
"Our dogs seemed to get the worst of it somehow. Our boy dog actually collapsed. I don't understand why, but our dogs were very sick, and we ended up putting the second one to sleep because she was so ill."
Graham, who's in touch with other affected dog owners, says she understands that 26 dogs have died so far.
The shocking death toll in Victoria is just the latest incident.
Annie Dunlop's cat Darcy became seriously ill after eating a tin of cat food.
'I nearly killed my cat'
"A few years ago I nearly killed my beautiful black Oriental cat, Darcy, with dodgy cat food imported from France," Annie Dunlop told us.
"He became sick and was vomiting and lethargic. I took him to the vet, who could find nothing wrong with him. He prescribed a diet, which I followed.
"Darcy recovered and I put him back on his 'normal' diet, which included the cat food he'd been eating.
"He became ill again. Naturally my other tins were ditched. I informed the vet of my findings."
'Same rules should be applied to pet food'
"I accidentally brought some contaminated dog treats, and suddenly Poko started having seizures," Shane told us.
"Blood tests also showed he had liver damage. Poko was an ultra-healthy dog before he ate the dog treat, and then came the expensive vet bills and anti-seizure medications that he had to take for the remainder of his life.
"There have been many cases of pet food and pet treat contamination, and I think that the same rules should be applied to pet food and treats that are applied to human foods."
Shane's dog Poko suffered permanent damage after eating contaminated dog treats.
We want mandatory safety standards
These responses clearly show that Australians are demanding mandatory safety standards for the foods we feed our pets – in line with those in countries including New Zealand, the US and jurisdictions such as the EU. But policymakers continue to drag their feet.
An October 2018 Senate report, 'Regulatory approaches to ensure the safety of pet food', laid out a strong case for mandatory standards in Australia, recommending that policymakers consider having the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act (FSANZ) cover pet food as well as human food.
It also recommended that the federal government consider making the voluntary standard mandatory.
An October 2018 Senate report laid out a strong case for mandatory standards in Australia
When the report was released, Minister of Agriculture David Littleproud (whose portfolio includes pet food regulation) said he would review its findings and that recommendations would be made in 2019 "about how to best manage pet food regulation and provide healthy and safe foods for pets in Australia", adding, "I have asked my department to expedite this work."
But it wasn't until June 2021 that Littleproud's working group released its response to the Senate report, and it rejected most of its key recommendations – the very recommendations we think are necessary to keep pets safe.
The latest deaths and the ongoing call for mandatory standards from industry, veterinarians, animal-protection agencies and the public demonstrate the need for a review of Littleproud's decision.
In the meantime, the delays will continue to cost pets and their owners dearly.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.