Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Where is the reporting (especially online)?

I was glad to see that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has posted an online FAQ about the recent spate of Salmonella-related petfood recalls--and especially gratified that the very first entry attributes the rise in recent incidents to increased awareness, vigilance by petfood companies and regulatory authorities and the new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Reportable Food Registry.
As AVMA explains, the registry "requires and allows immediate reporting of safety problems with food and animal feed (including petfood), instead of relying on inspection to identify problems." The veterinary organization concludes the response by stressing that the recent increase does not mean petfoods are unsafe. "Considering that the majority of these recalls have been precautionary and no illnesses have been reported, these recalls may indicate that they are preventing illness by catching the problems earlier."
Unfortunately, not everyone is taking such a reasoned, informed approach. An
article on a site called Wallet Pop carries this headline: "Petfood recalls on the rise, which is bad for you, bad for your pet." Interestingly, the article itself presents a fairly balanced approach to the subject, with input from FDA, the Pet Food Institute and Kimberly May of AVMA, in addition to the founder of the Pet Food Products Safety Alliance, described as a "grass roots industry watchdog group."
Then consider these headlines screaming across the Internet earlier this week: "Fido's food could be making kids sick" and "Tainted petfood sickened children."
Those are just two examples from mainstream media about an article in the journal Pediatrics stemming from a
new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The report addressed Salmonella-related petfood recalls from 2006-2008 and how in some of those cases--especially a large recall in 2008 by Mars Petcare US--humans became ill from the Salmonella.
Now, a nasty bacterium like Salmonella contaminating petfood and spreading to humans is definitely cause for concern. And the CDC report essentially verifying the link between the tainted petfood and the human cases is newsworthy. But from the headlines posted everywhere on the Web, you would think these were new cases and that children all across the US were falling prey to their pets' food.
The media are an easy punching bag these days, but this type of situation makes it difficult to defend my fellow journalists. As Jon Benninger, a journalist who covers natural products for humans,
blogged recently, where is the reporting?

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