(AUSTRALIA) Pet Food Report: A single property in the Northern Territory has been identified as the source of toxic horse meat, believed responsible for a spate of dog deaths in Victoria #AceNewsDesk report

(AUSTRALIA) Pet Food Report: A single property in the Northern Territory has been identified as the source of toxic horse meat, believed responsible for a spate of dog deaths in Victoria #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – Aug.11: I have been on the property and discussed the situation with the manager and he was completely unaware that the [final] destination of the horses was Victoria for manufactured pet food,” Peter Saville, the NT’s principal veterinary officer, said.,,,

#AceDailyNews reports that contaminated pet food investigation traces toxic horse meat back to NT property in Victoria authorities are not naming the location but have visited the property and interviewed its manager — who is said to be shocked by what has happened………..It is understood the property sold a truckload of about 25 horses, but they were not intended to go to Victoria.

“The manager’s understanding was the horses would go to a meatworks in Queensland for human consumption and our investigation has suggested the horses were re-directed [to Victoria] due to COVID lockdowns.”

Dr Saville said samples had been collected from another 80 horses on the property, which will be tested for levels of the toxin indospicine.

When asked if the toxic horse meat would have been harmful to humans, Dr Saville said “not necessarily”.

“Humans are far more tolerant to low-levels of indospicine than dogs and the amount of meat in a human diet is much lower than a dog diet … given dogs are repeatedly fed the same diet almost every day.”

A group of horse run through the red desert.
Feral horses have inhabited vast areas of remote Central Australia. (ABC News: Matthew Abbott)

‘No signs of sick horses’, NT vet says

In the Northern Territory, under its Meat Industries Act 1996, it is illegal for a person to slaughter a horse for pet food “if he or she knows, or has reason to suspect, it has been in an area in which Birdsville Horse Disease occurs.”

Birdsville disease is a toxic condition in horses caused by eating a native species of Indigofera.

Dr Saville said while inspecting the NT property linked to the Victorian pet food contamination, he saw no evidence of horses suffering from Birdsville disease and did not see any signs of the Indigofera plants growing on the property.

He described the horses in question as “semi-feral” and said it was very unusual for horses to be sold from the NT. 

“The Northern Territory faces issues with an expanding [feral] horse population which leads to land degradation and animal welfare issues during dry times,” he said.

“The owner of this property was very keen to reduce his horse numbers to try and avoid these issues.

“There isn’t much of a market for horses at the moment and the movement of horses for slaughter has dropped off dramatically over the last 10 years and is almost non-existent.

“So when this person was contacted and asked if he could supply a truckload of horses he was very enthusiastic.”

According to the Federal Department of Agriculture, Australia exported 808 tonnes of “edible horse meat” last year and 285 tonnes of “inedible horse”.

‘I miss him every day’

In Victoria, Laura Curtin is mourning the loss of her pet Labrador, named Hodge, who died on July 13 after suffering liver failure.

She says she took the dog to a vet several times between July 5 and 8 and was told Hodge’s liver tests were “off the charts” and contaminated pet food was the likely cause.

Laura Curtin takes a selfie with her dog.
Laura Curtin and her dog Hodge in happier times.(Supplied: Laura Curtin)

At least 23 pet dogs have died, and 67 have been hospitalised in Victoria from indospicine poisoning.

Speaking to ABC Rural, Ms Curtin says she bought a kangaroo pet meat product for her dog in early July, and was horrified to learn it may have been contaminated with toxic horse meat. 

Ms Curtain made the tough decision to put her pet down, when treatment did not appear to be working and her veterinarian suspected the dog had suffered neurological damage.

“I miss him every day,” she said.

“There needs to be accountability, so it doesn’t happen again in the future.”

After mass dog deaths in Victoria, a pet food maker joins vets in demanding mandatory regulations

15 hours ago

In the wake of a distressing outbreak of dog fatalities linked to meat from a knackery, a raw pet food manufacturer is backing the Australian Veterinary Association’s call to introduce mandatory standards for the nation’s $2.9-billion pet food industry.

Chris Essex, who founded Big Dog Pet Foods 23 years ago and employs more than 60 staff, says the self-regulated system is a “free-for-all” with no monitoring or enforced compliance.

“You get audited annually against the (voluntary) Australian standard if you’re a member of the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA),” Mr Essex said.

“We are all holding each other accountable and driving new standards but if you’re not part of the PFIAA it’s really a free-for-all, unfortunately.”

Pet food mince being pumped into plastic packets.
Pet Food Industry Association of Australia members make pet food to human-grade standards.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

At least 21 pet dogs have died in Victoria in the past two months, with investigations focusing on meat processed by a Gippsland knackery.

Toxicology reports indicate horse and camel meat from the Northern Territory contained indospicine, a plant toxin that has a traumatic effect on the livers of dogs.   

The most recent killer outbreak has resulted in fresh calls for stricter controls of pet food supply and manufacturing.   

Since Mars produced its first can of Pal in 1967, Australia’s commercial pet food industry has boomed, with about 2,500 employees.

Manufacturers who choose not to be members of the PFIAA have no obligation to comply with the voluntary Australian standard.

Chris Essex wants a mandatory standard to be introduced for pet food manufacturers.
Chris Essex wants more industry accountability.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

Mr Essex wants pet food regulated to make companies list product contents on labels and explain where their meat-based ingredients are sourced.

His Queensland factory specialises in manufacturing biologically appropriate raw food, also known as the BARF diet, including wheat grass grown in trays in a converted shipping container.

Staff brew kombucha tea and ferment kefir from milk to add good bacteria to a seasonal mix of Australian vegetables and fruits, probiotics, offal and fresh and frozen waste chicken, beef and salmon sourced from the human food manufacturing sector.

Trays of wheat grass on racks in a container.
Wheat grass is part of the BARF pet food mix.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

Mr Essex is concerned most people don’t know the distinction between human and pet-grade meat.

“Sourcing ingredients exclusively through for-human-consumption facilities (abattoirs), means that the safety you would expect from raw meat you buy at your local supermarket or butcher is what you can expect from the meat used to make our pet food,” he said.

“We have 100 per cent confidence in our suppliers, we have full traceability and the processes in place should we ever need to do a recall.”

What should you feed your pet?

There’s no simple answer according to Dr Alastair Webb, president of the Australian Small Animal Veterinarians Association.

“The standard comment I give people is, if you ask 10 different people what to feed your dog you’ll get 10 different opinions,” Dr Webb said.

“Pets have variable tolerances and susceptibilities to different foods, so you can’t have a blanket rule. What works for one dog will not necessarily work for the next dog.”

A smiling man with a stethoscope around his neck holds up a cat on an examination table.
Australian Small Animal Veterinarians president Alastair Webb says there is no one-size-fits-all answer to what you should feed pets.(Supplied: Dr Alastair Webb)

He said as a general rule, cooking improved food safety.

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) recommends that pet owners check the product they are purchasing and never feed them food from a non-PFIAA member.

People making their own pet food at home were advised to seek advice to make sure they meet nutritional requirements for their pet’s stage of life.

No regulation ‘means more animals die’

Dr Linda Fleeman is involved with PetFast, a system the AVA set up more than a decade ago for members to report potential pet food problems.

She told ABC Radio Melbourne that pet food labelling and regulation should be more aligned to human-consumption food standards  and include mandatory alerts and recalls when pet health is at risk.

“The delays, the confusion, not having a recall policy, not having regulation to follow, having nobody to turn to — the fact that there’s no home in the Australian government system for anything to do with pet food or pets, it slows everything down, it means that more animals die,” Dr Fleeman said.

Salmon heads in a tub.
Salmon heads, a byproduct of food manufacturing for humans, go into Big Dog pet food.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

A Federal Department of Agriculture spokesperson said a pet food review working group would provide its final report to senior officials next month, including a range of regulatory and non-regulatory options to manage the health and safety of pet food in Australia.

“Any option to regulate manufactured pet food would need to be implemented by state and territory governments,” the spokesperson said.

#AceNewsDesk report ………Published: Aug.11: 2021:

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