NEW YORK -- The most recent case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, reported in Washington state late last month, has had no impact on the domestic pet food supply -- or its safety, sources told SN.
While many dog and other pet foods contain beef or beef by-products, making them just as susceptible to contamination as beef processed for human consumption, pet food sales have remained steady. Grocers said consumers don't appear to be concerned about the safety of their pets' provisions.
"We've seen no impact on pet food sales or supplies. We've had only a handful of BSE calls to our toll-free customer service line. Our stores are reporting virtually no customer questions," said Jeff Lowrance, spokesman for Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C.
The same could be said for East Coast retailer Giant Food, Landover, Md., with the category manager responsible for pet foods reporting no impact on pet food sales as a result of the recent mad cow scare, according to Jamie Miller, public affairs manager.
While it's still slightly early to predict any long-term effect -- with the first domestic case of BSE being reported right before the Christmas holiday -- it's not likely the U.S. pet food supply will be hard hit, considering the one case of BSE hasn't spelled doom for human beef sales, said Stephen Payne, manager of public affairs and export promotion at the Pet Food Institute, Washington. PFI membership is comprised of manufacturers who make about 97% of the dog and cat food sold in the United States.
"Overall, we don't believe we'll be seeing an erosion in consumer confidence," said Payne. "Domestically, in terms of product availability and manufacturing and what consumers will see on supermarket shelves, there haven't been changes that would result in consumers not being able to find the brand of pet food that they normally purchase in the U.S."
However, it's a different story in Canada, where U.S. shipments account for at least half of the pet food sold, he said. Due to import prohibitions that were immediately put in place after the Washington state BSE case by government officials there, "there have been a number of reports coming in from Canada of people concerned that there might be pet food problems with distribution -- and even shortages."
Nearly all pet food imports from the United States were banned on Christmas Eve, but the government has since eased the restrictions to cover only those pet food products that contain "bovine-derived ingredients," according to published reports.
"We're not dealing with a pet food-safety issue here. We want to make sure the consumers understand that it's a safe, nutritious product for their animals," Payne said.