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Menu Foods Tainted Pet Food Crisis, 2007 Case Study

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Updated: Jun 19th, 2021

Introduction

In February 2007, a Canadian company, Menu Foods, learned that its products caused kidney failures and deaths of animals. The problems appeared because of the presence of melamine and cyanuric acid in pet food (Brown et al., 2007). The investigations found out that contamination was associated with wheat gluten produced by Xuzhou Anying in China (Vail, Jones, & Sparkman, 2007). This information, however, was disclosed only a month later, when the organization had to recall its goods from the stores. The scandal involved several prominent companies, including Procter & Gamble, and caused much loss to all parties. This paper investigates the tainted pet food crisis of 2007, its reasons, and results. It also suggests solutions that could have improved the situation before it became critical.

Summary of the Events

A complex sequence of events prompted the scandal. It had started several months before the problem was first discovered in November 2006 (Nestle, 2008). Menu Foods ordered wheat gluten from ChemNutra that was produced by Xuzhou Anying. As laboratory tests revealed later, the producer sold adulterated ingredients that contained chemicals. Menu Foods received the first complaint about a pet kidney failure in February 2008. Only about a week later, the company started palatability testing. This action was a coincidence rather than a measure to solve the problem reported by the alarming calls, as Menu Foods ran such tests every three months.

The hired testing company did not disclose its identity since animal testing is strongly condemned, and the procedure included animal experimentation. For that investigation, the company involved twenty-five cats and ten dogs (“Transcript of FDA press conference on contaminated animal feed,” 2007). It is notable that, although Menu Foods was continuously receiving calls reporting kidney problems or deaths before, during, and after testing, the organization did not express concerns regarding its results. Nine cats were dead, and two cats were ill with kidney failure. Only two weeks after the first alert, Menu Foods notified ChemNutra that there was a possible problem with wheat gluten the company had shipped.

The results of the testing initiated another investigation made by the Animal Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University. Notably, Menu Foods did not disclose the results of the previous examination but asked the laboratory to test the food for pesticides and insecticides as if the cats were refusing to eat it (Nestle, 2008). Procter & Gamble informed Menu Foods that it had started to receive alarming calls, too (Nestle, 2008). Later, the company started to recall cat food made at the Menu plant. Only a month after the first issue, the organization decided to recall 60 million units of cat and dog food (Nestle, 2008). Its clients, including Royal Canin USA and Blue Buffalo, recalled some of their products voluntarily too (“Contaminant found in second,” 2007).

Shortly after Procter & Gamble’s scientists found melamine in food supplies, Cornell and state laboratories of New York announced the aminopterin finding. In March 2018, Pet Connection reported almost 2,800 pet deaths as a result of Menu Foods pet food consummation (Nestle, 2008). Notably, contaminated pet foods remained available for customers for at least two months after the first investigation. In the end, more than 150 pet food brands were removed from the shops (Everstine, Spink, & Kennedy, 2013). The incident had an immense impact on Menu Food and other companies; pet owners were strongly affected by it too. Many organizations had to recall their pet food lines, Menu Food’s loss was more than 60 million dollars, around 800 employees at Chinese organizations responsible for contamination were arrested, and the former head of State Food and Drug Administration Zheng Xiaoyu was sentenced to death (Nestle, 2008). Following the incident, global suppliers started to approach international trading and goods more responsibly (Chen et al., 2014). However, this positive outcome does not eliminate the significant negative results of the crisis.

Official Communication and Its Effectiveness

Menu Food’s Communication

It is clear that Menu Foods’ response to the problem was obscure and caused misunderstandings for both customers and the company’s clients. Nestle (2008) points out that the communication during the crisis should be clear, and all problems should be disclosed fully. The company’s initial decision to suppress the facts led to a crisis that could have been avoided. It is clear that customers did not realize that the food was dangerous to their pets since Menu Foods did not recall all of its products simultaneously (“FDA press conference on recall of products,” 2007). The company gradually recalled 67 of its brands of cat food and almost the same number of dog food lines (Nestle, 2008).

On March 9, when Menu Foods received the first test results, the organization irresponsibly decided that something else could cause pets’ illnesses and did not assume measures to solve the problem. The recall was only announced on March 16, which means that cats and dogs were put at risk for one more week (Joel v. Menu Foods Genpar Limited, 2007). Moreover, humans were affected too as the tainted ingredients were used to make livestock and fish feed (“Transcript of FDA press conference on the pet food recall,” 2007). Tests detected melamine in fish feed too, but the concentrations of it were lower than in pet food (Reimschuessel et al., 2008). Menu Foods reported that it did not issue a recall because laboratories and the FDA could not identify dangerous substances in their products. Indeed, its client, Procter & Gamble, forced the company to solve the problem by opting to recall.

In my opinion, Menu Foods’ communication was ineffective. The company disclosed the results of its investigation too late. Even when it sent the samples to the laboratory at Cornell University, it decided to conceal the real reason for testing. It shows that the organization tried to avoid conflict and did not want to damage its reputation. In my opinion, Menu Foods took necessary action too late, which resulted in a crisis.

The FDA’s Communication

It is essential to point out that the FDA’s powers are limited. The organization can only advise companies to make recalls but is not authorized to order them. However, the FDA could have initiated a court action to remove the products that violate its laws (Rumbeiha & Morrison, 2011). In my opinion, the FDA provided a quick response to the problem. Notably, there were only two full-time staff members working on pet food issues, which was not a sufficient number of people for managing such an acute problem (Nestle, 2008). However, the communication within the organization was not effective since its representatives could not reveal details about manufacturers due to the lack of information. Later, the FDA deliberately concealed the names of the companies that had tainted ingredients in their products even though it was open about the ongoing investigation (“Pet food recall: FDA’s ongoing investigation,” 2007). Moreover, months after the issue was discovered, the organization continued to minimize the number of injured pets in its reports. It led to a misunderstanding and confusion among pet owners as they did not know which pet food companies they could trust.

Nevertheless, the FDA made significant efforts to minimize the severe outcomes of the crisis. It continued to investigate ChemNutra’s and other importers’ products and methods of shipment; announced the detention of all Chinese ingredients and, eventually, introduced the names of the pet food organizations issuing recalls to the public. However, Nestle (2008) reports that the organization had been aware of a similar case of food contamination. It happened in 2004 in Taiwan and other Asian countries and was caused by Pedigree and Whiskas products (Chen et al., 2009). Even though the company had underlined the possible link between these outbreaks, the FDA decided that it was irrelevant. In my opinion, the organization made a significant contribution to crisis elimination but could have done more before it came to its critical point.

Recommendations

In my opinion, there are several steps companies could have taken to improve the situation before it became a crisis. Firstly, they should have taken the results of the first test seriously and made them available to the public immediately. In my opinion, it was irresponsible to assume that pets’ deaths and kidney failures could be caused by other pet foods only because those were involved in the investigations as well. Even if Menu Foods supposed that it was not responsible for animal illnesses, the company should have reported the obtained results to protect other pets. Indeed, the organization should not have concealed the aim of the tests from the Cornell laboratory.

Menu Foods should have recalled their goods immediately after they received the test results. The reasons why the company delayed such a decision are clear since it would take significant losses. However, it shows that Menu Foods was more concerned about its reputation and finances than animals’ lives. In my opinion, even if the firm decided not to take action to prevent possible adverse outcomes, it should have consulted the FDA or animal protection organizations on the issue. If Proctor & Gamble did not force Menu Foods to recall their pet food, the outcomes would be even worse.

Lastly, the FDA should have approached the situation more responsibly. As mentioned above, the organization lacked communication, which led to a worsening of the problem. In my opinion, the FDA should have disclosed all information it had and made it available for pet owners. It is still unclear whether the organization tried to save companies’ reputations or did not want to publish unconfirmed information. The company only released a detailed report a year after the crisis had started (“FDA investigation leads to several indictments,” 2008). I believe that the FDA could have taken more actions to support pet owners and ensure the safety of animals.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I want to point out that the pet food crisis of 2007 is the result of companies’ irresponsible behavior. The primary reason for it was the illegal actions of Xuzhou Anying. However, Menu Foods could have improved the situation by taking necessary measures as soon as the problem appeared. I believe that the crisis has taught other companies to test the goods provided by their manufacturers and develop a crisis management strategy preliminarily.

References

Brown, C. A., Jeong, K. S., Poppenga, R. H., Puschner, B., Miller, D. M., Ellis, A. E.,… Brown, S. A. (2007). Outbreaks of renal failure associated with melamine and cyanuric acid in dogs and cats in 2004 and 2007. Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation, 19(5), 525-531.

Chen, C., Zhang, J., & Delaurentis, T. (2014). Quality control in food supply chain management: An analytical model and case study of the adulterated milk incident in China. International Journal of Production Economics, 152, 188-199.

Chen, K. C., Liao, C. W., Cheng, F. P., Chou, C. C., Chang, S. C., Wu, J. H.,… Liao, J. W. (2009). Evaluation of subchronic toxicity of pet food contaminated with melamine and cyanuric acid in rats. Toxicologic Pathology, 37(7), 959-968.

Contaminant found in second pet food ingredient. (2007). Web.

Everstine, K., Spink, J., & Kennedy, S. (2013). Economically motivated adulteration (EMA) of food: Common characteristics of EMA incidents. Journal of Food Protection, 76(4), 723-735.

FDA investigation leads to several indictments for importing contaminated ingredients used in pet food. (2008). Web.

(2007). Web.

Joel v. Menu Foods Genpar Limited, 2007 BCSC 1482 (2007).

Nestle, M. (2008). Pet food politics: The Chihuahua in the coal mine. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

(2007). Web.

Reimschuessel, R., Gieseker, C. M., Miller, R. A., Ward, J., Boehmer, J., Rummel, N.,… Witkowski, M. R. (2008). Evaluation of the renal effects of experimental feeding of melamine and cyanuric acid to fish and pigs. American Journal of Veterinary Research, 69(9), 1217-1228.

Rumbeiha, W., & Morrison, J. (2011). A review of class I and class II pet food recalls involving chemical contaminants from 1996 to 2008. Journal of Medical Toxicology, 7(1), 60-66.

(2007). Web.

(2007). Web.

Vail, T. M., Jones, P. R., & Sparkman, O. D. (2007). Rapid and unambiguous identification of melamine in contaminated pet food based on mass spectrometry with four degrees of confirmation. Journal of Analytical Toxicology, 31(6), 304-312.

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