Natural Selection Foods, the company at the heart of the spinach e. coli outbreak last fall, is now testing product intensely. And it continues to find dangerous microbes regularly. Check out my report on NPR.
“Because of the recall, people are asking more questions, wondering what is in this bag of food" - Jen Buhler, manager of The Pet Shop Girls
This quote appeared in a New York Times story on the rise of organic pet food sales, following the huge recall last month. It was predictable. Just about every food scare in the past has produced a spike in sales of organic food, though this is the first time it has occurred with pet food. A scare over the pesticide alar, on apples, gave a major boost to the organic food industry in 1990. "A Panic For Organic" headlines read. More recently, Mad Cow disease in Europe led to a dramatic rise in demand for organic meat.
What sets off this reaction? The desire of consumers for a higher bar of food safety and a mistrust of a system that is anything but transparent, as expressed in the quote above.
But these food-scare reactions do not last. The story fades and eventually - as in spinach - people return to what they ate before, unless there's an underlying sense that an alternative is better. Some will switch to raw pet food, still others to homemade concoctions (recall that pets ate table scraps for thousands of years before the invention of the pet food industry).
But many consumers will want the convenient alternative they can pour into a bowl. Organic pet food sales were already one of the fastest growing categories before this food scare, and I expect that will continue, even after this story fades.
One of the most surprising aspects of the current recall of contaminated pet food was how many brands were involved. Sixty million packages, representing about 1 percent of all dog and cat food supplies, have been pulled off store shelves. They were manufactured by one company. (Reuters story). Hundreds of unlucky pets ate the food and suffered kidney failure. The number is expected to rise.
This is another wake up call about the risks of centralization in the food supply. Although the cause of the current outbreak has not been identified (wheat gluten is suspected), a bad ingredient in a massive batch of food can become a national issue. This is reminiscent of the e. coli crisis in spinach last year that killed three people and sickened 200 throughout the nation. It was traced to one field.