Euthanasia drug in dog food: Court documents reveal new information


WASHINGTON (WJLA) - New information is raising questions about the source of the euthanasia drug pentobarbital in dog food.

Earlier this year, an ABC7 investigation exposed the drug and prompted the recall of more than 107 million cans of pet food.

Within hours of the investigation, the FDA launched its own into Smucker’s subsidiary, Big Heart Brands -- the maker of Gravy Train, Kibbles ‘N Bits, Ol’ Roy and Skippy dog foods.

At issue: a rendered fat ingredient -- that is, the boiled byproduct of carcasses that contained the euthanasia drug pentobarbital.

The latest class action lawsuit against the company alleges that the FDA found pentobarbital, in the company's fat supply, at levels at least 80 times higher than what ABC7 discovered in products on the shelves.

And that the company retained a sample of that fat from a full year earlier, in 2017, with levels of pentobarbital more than 50 times higher than ABC7 results that prompted the recall.

“It is an important fact because they retained it, yet they didn’t test it,” said attorney Rebecca Peterson. “Or they did test it and they still went forward by including that tallow in the contaminated dog food." Peterson is one of the attorneys handling one of the class action lawsuits against Smucker’s subsidiary, Big Heart Pet Brands, for pentobarbital contamination.

From the onset, the company maintained that the pentobarbital was not to be of concern to consumers. It characterized the levels in pet food as "extremely low."

Pentobarbital is illegal at any level, as it is a lethal drug.

Big Heart Brands states its top priority is the “safety and quality of its products.”

The revelation that pentobarbital has existed in the company’s supply chain for more than a year appears to contradict its assurance to consumers of “a comprehensive testing program that is used to assess the safety and quality of ingredients upon receipt.”

An unsurprising contradiction to food safety attorney Bill Marler.

“Sometimes the industry just doesn't want to be transparent and I think they miss the boat because consumers are pretty understanding of mistakes that get made in the food supply,” said Marler. “They aren't so understanding when they think that the government and industry are hiding things from them."

In a statement, Smuckers did not address the failures of its previous "comprehensive testing program" but said that "although the company has robust quality assurance procedures in place, we are committed to enhancing sourcing and supplier oversight procedures to help ensure this does not happen again."

Court documents allege the source of contaminated fat as the company's supplier JBS, itself the subject of investigations and recalls for everything from E.coli and the inhumane treatment of animals, to rotten meat and product contamination dating back to at least 2009.

In a statement, JBS did not address those issues but stated it has modified it procurement process and "will divert all third-party sourced materials to non-edible production until the company can ensure these materials meet its high standards for quality and safety."

Peterson says they're seeking more than remedies for affected consumers.

“That these companies become transparent and honest as to what they're including in the dog food. Pets are viewed as family and consumers [want] to know and expect that these companies are transparent and honest in what they put on their labels," said Peterson.

UPDATE: In a letter to WJLA on May 24, 2018, Smuckers expressed concern that this story did not sufficiently differentiate between test results on the rendered fat ingredient and test results on the finished pet food product. As we reported, a recent lawsuit alleges the FDA found levels of pentobarbital in two samples of the fat ingredient that were, respectively, 80 times higher and 50 times higher than what our test results found in the finished product. To be clear, the fat ingredient the FDA tested is only one component of the finished product.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off