Thursday, December 23, 2010

For better or worse, recalls still bring intense scrutiny to the industry

Late last week a US appellate court ruled that a settlement in a class action-lawsuit stemming from the 2007 petfood recalls was "fair, reasonable and adequate" -- except for one area regarding the amount of money due to each claimant. So back goes the case again to a New Jersey district court judge for more information and clarification.
 Claimants who saw their pets become ill or, worse, die from eating contaminated products may be wondering if they will ever see closure on this (not to mention whether any judge or other person can put a price on the value of a beloved pet). And many petfood manufacturers whose products were involved may be thinking that they had moved on from that incident long ago.
 But I don't think true closure is even possible, because those massive recalls were such a game-changer for pet owners and the petfood industry.
 Pet owners, most of whom had been unaware of how their pets' food was made or what it was made of, suddenly started learning and wanting to know much more about petfood ingredients, processing, regulation and testing. And that created a paradigm shift in how our industry communicated with consumers -- or at least in how we should communicate and the kind of information consumers now expect.
 In addition, the 2007 petfood recalls led to new legislation, such as the Food and Drug Admendment Act passed later that year, that created new regulatory mechanisms like the Reportable Food Registry that all petfood (and human food) producers must now use. The newly passed Food Safety Modernization Act will bring further changes and regulations.
 Perhaps the most significant reason there will never be closure on the 2007 recalls is that petfood recalls still happen fairly frequently; Kroger just announced one this past week. In fact, recalls seem to be more frequent than ever, partially because of the increased reporting requirements under the Registry.
 Of course, petfood recalls happened before 2007. It's just that the scope of the recalls that spring -- in terms of the number of products, companies, pets and owners affected -- was unprecedented, ensuring that no one will ever be able to look at petfood recalls the same again. Which means no one will ever look at the industry the same, either. For better or worse.

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