At unusual times, a connection can be formed between apparently unrelated things. Such is the case with dogs, COVID-19, mental health, politicians, and China’s history of selling toxic products.
Americans of all ages have experienced a detrimental lack of social interaction over the past year, with no end in sight. For millions, the best therapy is a dog.
As acquisitions of furry friends skyrocket and our dependence on them increases with our isolation, these dogs’ health can be at risk from foods and supplements made from ingredients sourced in China. First they sent us COVID-19 and now – once again – potentially toxic food that threatens the four-legged friends who help us with it.
American pet owners prefer American-made pet food, but that market is not governed by human feed control.
As a former commissioner of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission chartered by Congress, it has always been a matter of great concern to me to identify toxic ingredients from China in American products. In its 2019 report to Congress, the commission found that China is the world’s leading source of pharmaceutical ingredients, which include pet food supplements.
Back in 2007, we found that air pollutant agriculture had become widespread as a result of China’s rapid growth, conflicting levels of supervision, suppressive control of state media, and China’s tacit refusal to enforce its own product safety laws.
The problem of dog food safety is no small matter. It has never been so important and never so human.
The health of a loved one is their human first concern, and the “pet effect” is real. Pets relieve stress, depression, anxiety, and loneliness – feelings that are commonly reported to increase during COVID. In a recent survey, nearly all pet owners viewed their pets as families, and 75 percent attributed improvements in mental health to their pets.
Dogs regularly help veterans suffering from PTSD or physical injuries. A pet organization promotes “the Woofice” and finds that pets create happier employees and higher productivity in the workplace. “Pets in the Classroom” encourages pets in schools to teach children empathy for “the little things that have no words”. Pets are important companions for seniors and are often their only companion. Dogs are even used as remedies and for recovery from mental illness and addiction.
In 2019, the FDA Veterinary Center began investigating significant improvements in dilated cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart), a deadly disease that weakens and kills dogs. Between 2016 and 2018, the number of reported annual cases rose from two to 320. The culprit appears to be grain-free pet food. Between 2016 and 2017, when these cases exploded, sales of this type of dog food from China rose 173 percent.
Toxic Chinese dog food is not a new phenomenon. It’s a trend. Since 2007, thousands of dogs have fallen sick or died from jerky treats made with Chinese ingredients but marked as “Made in the US”. Dogs were killed and injured by Chinese food, which contains the industrial chemical melamine. More recently, counterfeit Chinese flea collars have made pets sick and potentially killed.
American pet owners prefer American-made pet food, but that market is not governed by human food controls, and vague labeling guidelines make it difficult to determine if raw materials are sourced from China.
Many pet food and dietary supplement labels contain shaky phrases such as “Made in the USA” with no country of origin references. COVID has a proven impact on the pet supplements market, increasing sales 21 percent in 2020. This is an indicator of increased pet health awareness for American wellbeing.
Toxic Chinese products in the human sphere include toothpaste with antifreeze, destructive sulfur-containing Chinese drywall and dangerous lead-contaminated toys. So we cannot pretend that Chinese products are safe or that their raw materials meet US safety standards.
China’s soil is dirty. It contains impurities that are not found in American soil. China’s government will only publicly admit that 20 percent of its land will be contaminated by the time the crisis hits. The truth is probably exponentially higher.
Would you eat a bean grown in heavy metals? Dogs shouldn’t either.
Dogs can’t read or dial the phone, but humans can examine dog food brands for ingredient sources and pressure. Congress and the Biden Administration can examine the raw materials of dog food in more detail and provide guidelines that make pet food labels more accurate. As the White House prepares for its first meeting with Chinese officials, food safety should be on the agenda for all living beings.
We all saw mental health problems, addictions, and suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic. A dog’s love and companionship is a crucial element in alleviating the loneliness and isolation of many Americans. My mother always said, “Dogs are God’s way of showing us how to treat one another.” In times of stress and anxiety caused by social and economic COVID restrictions, the consequence also applies.
Our government should take serious steps to protect consumers from harmful Chinese products for the human or pet market. Our furry therapists should be treated with the same level of food safety as we are.
A firm message from our elected officials to the Chinese government on behalf of American consumers would not be difficult, but long overdue.
Kerri Houston Toloczko is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Liberty and a former commissioner of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.