Analysis of the 2007 Pet Food Recalls – Preconditions, Trigger, Crisis and Post-Crisis
|Topics:||Animal Rights, Business Ethics, Marketing, 🐰 Animal Welfare, 🍲 Food|
Table of Contents
The 2007 pet food recalls involved the recall of dog and cat food products in Europe, South Africa, and North America. The recalls took place between March and May 2007 after reports of renal failure in pets associated with the consumption of the contaminated pet foods. According to Gao (2011), preliminary investigations into the unsafe pet products revealed that the pet foods were contaminated with a chemical called melamine which causes renal failure in animals. Gao (2011) reported that the contamination of the pet foods occurred following the use of melamine-containing vegetable proteins imported from China as an ingredient by pet food makers in South Africa, North America, and Europe. Succeeding sections of this paper examined the 2007 pet food recalls under the headings of preconditions, trigger event, crisis, and post-crisis responses. The analysis of the 2007 pet food recalls will involve the use of theories including the Drift towards Failure and the Group Thinking theoretical models.
The contamination of the pet food products with melamine was a single incident in the widespread practice of protein adulteration in China. Nestle (2008) highlighted that since the 1990s, the Chinese General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (GAQSIQ) had noted incidences of improper use of industrial chemicals to adulterate food products. According to Crandall, Parnell and Spillan (2009), the Chinese State Administration for Industry and Commerce had been regularly closing down unscrupulous food factories known to adulterate food products. For example, 180 food factories were closed down in 2001 for the improper use of expired food ingredients and industrial chemicals during food production. Therefore, the culture of food adulteration in China had been thriving long before the 2007 pet food recalls.
Gao (2011) noted that the adulteration of human and animal food products in China increased after the international food regulatory agencies demanded Chinese food with high nutritional value. Unfortunately, most food factories in China failed to meet the demanded nutritional standards for exports; hence, the Chinese factories turned to the culture of adulteration. Fox, Hodgkins and Smart (2012) reported that the adulteration of Chinese food products became widespread as a consequence of the high number of unlicensed food manufacturers in China. Approximately, 75% of food processors in China are small and medium privately-owned enterprises operating without proper licenses. Therefore, the widespread presence of unlicensed food manufacturers in China provided a fertile ground for food adulteration to thrive.
The Drift towards Failure model can best explain the preconditions to the 2007 pet food recalls. Hannu, Nevas, Riitta and Satu (2015) noted that since its inception, the Chinese General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine (AQSIQ) started to normalize deviance in the production of food products by failing to tame the rise in the number of unlicensed food manufacturers. Evans (2010) reported that until 2008, the AQSIQ had not set the maximum limit for melamine in animal and human food products. Thus, food manufacturers were at liberty to add as much melamine as they deemed fit for their business operations. Therefore, the quality watchdogs in China failed to formulate and implement strict national quality standards; hence, nurturing the normalization of protein adulteration culture in the pet food industry.
The Drift towards Failure model is also applicable in apportioning blame to the trading partners in North America, Europe, and South Africa. According to Graham, Lawson, Murray and Potter (2012), the FDA had always suspected the quality of Chinese goods and services before the 2007 pet foods crisis. For example, the FDA had rejected up to 200 shipments of food products from China in 2006. Similarly, the trading partners in Europe had been aware of the lenient role of the Chinese government in maintaining the quality standards of its exports. Graham et al (2012) noted that despite all the warning signs, the trading partners in Europe and American drifted towards failure by continuing to import Chinese pet food products. Therefore, the culture of reluctance to acknowledge the imminent disaster from the unsafe Chinese products and services laid the foundation for the 2007 pet food recalls in America, South Africa, and Europe.
The absence of laws against the culture of protein adulteration in China featured as the trigger event for the 2007 pet food recalls. According to Bischoff and Wilson (2012), the melamine in the pet foods was added by the Chinese manufacturers to increase the protein content of the pet food products. After the 2007 pet food scandal, the general manager for a major Chinese melamine seller was asked about the legality of using melamine to increase the protein content in pet food products. According to Evans (2010), the manager responded saying, “No law or regulation says ‘don’t do it,’ so everyone is doing it.” In particular, the Chinese officials in charge of pet food safety failed to ban the use of melamine in pet food products; hence, putting both the domestic and the foreign users of the melamine-laced products in danger.
On April 25th, 2007, the Chinese government reported that its customs officers had cleared pet food products containing melamine for export purposes. Therefore, the Chinese officials were aware of the melamine content in its pet food exports but still allowed for the sale of the potentially lethal products to its international trading partners. Dowdle, Gillespie and Maher (2013) summarized that the manufacturers of the melamine-containing pet foods were not primarily responsible for the 2007 pet food recalls. Rather, the Chinese authorities were squarely responsible for the scandal because of its negligence in ensuring the safety of its exports. In essence, the failure by the Chinese authorities to enact laws that ban the addition of melamine in food products either directly or indirectly sponsored the culture of protein adulteration among Chinese pet food manufacturers.
The quality watchdogs in China, particularly the AQSIQ, first introduced the maximum limits of melamine in 2008. Lindsey (2010) reported that before 2008, the AQSIQ seemed to encourage the use of melamine to increase the protein content of food products. The AQSIQ had always advocated that melamine was not toxic to animals and humans. In particular, the Chinese quality watchdogs had always specified that melamine was a suitable non-protein source of nitrogen in animals. According to Autry and Navarro (2011), the Chinese government was either unaware of the toxic effects of melamine or the government was only interested in the use of fake protein for the sake of maximizing benefits from its exports. Overall, the absence of laws in China banning the use of melamine as a non-protein source of nitrogen in animal feeds featured as the tipping point to the 2007 pet food scandal.
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The crisis surrounding the 2007 pet food recalls started on with the importation of the melamine-containing wheat gluten from China. Moore et al (2017) reported that on November 6th, 2006, the American-based ChemNutra, Inc. imported six thousand tons of contaminated wheat gluten from the Chinese-based Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Company. Subsequently, the melamine-containing wheat gluten was distributed to pet food manufacturers in Canada, Europe, and South Africa. Moore et al (2017) wrote that as early as December 2006, pet food manufacturers including Menu Foods received information of possible contamination of the wheat gluten from China. Despite the warnings of possible contamination, Menu Foods and other manufacturers proceeded to manufacture pet food products with the unsafe ingredient. In this context, the crisis started and escalated with the importation and subsequent distribution of contaminated pet food products from China.
The importation and subsequent use of the contaminated products from China by the European, American and South African pet food manufacturers can be explained from the theoretical perspective of Group Thinking. According to Danezis and Georgiou (2017), Group Thinking is characterized by symptoms including but not limited to illusions of invulnerability, collective rationalization, and direct pressure on dissenters. Autry and Navarro (2011) noted that the pet food industry in North America, Europe, and South Africa is centralized whereby a single company from China supplies the wheat gluten product to the pet food manufacturers. All the pet food manufacturers in Europe, Africa, and North America were fully aware of the possible contamination of the wheat gluten from the specified Chinese supplier. However, the manufacturers adopted a collective sense of invulnerability by taking extreme risks of using the contaminated raw materials. Therefore, the Group Thinking among the pet food manufacturers escalated the 2007 pet food crisis.
Also, the 2007 per food crisis was worsened by the direct pressure on the dissenters. Pet food manufacturers across Europe and North American were reluctant to express their suspicions on the wheat gluten imported from China. For example, Menu Foods knew of the possible contamination of the wheat gluten as early as December 2006. However, the Canadian-based Menu Foods was under the pressure of Group Thinking not to express its suspicions with the substandard raw material because such expressions would go against the wishes and views of the majority of pet food manufacturers. Khalid and Kurt (2015) expressed concerns that without the pressure of group thinking, independent pet food manufacturers would have discredited the contaminated wheat gluten as soon as they had their suspicions; hence, preventing massive pet deaths. Therefore, most pet food manufacturers knowingly used the contaminated raw material because of the pressure to conform to the majority’s views.
Lastly, the 2007 pet food crisis was escalated by the collective rationalization based on the poor search of information and the selective bias in the appraisal of information regarding the toxicity of protein adulteration. According to Ahmady and Ashour (2016), group thinking is characterized by collective discounting of undesirable warnings. For example, the pet food manufacturers in Europe, North America, and South Africa together with the Chinese authorities presumed that melamine and other non-protein sources of nitrogen were harmless to animals. However, contrary research from as early as 1951 had demonstrated that chemicals used to adulterate proteins including aminopterin and melamine were potentially harmful to animals. In this context, the pet food manufacturers expressed collective rationalization and selective bias in the appraisal of information regarding the harmful nature of protein adulteration chemicals.
After the 2007 pet food recalls, the Chinese government curbed the culture of protein adulteration in China. First, Chinese authorities investigated the sources of the protein contamination for the pet food raw materials. According to Lorena, Zhang, X., Zhang, J and Victor (2011), the investigations identified two Chinese manufacturers of pet food products as responsible for the contamination. Subsequently, the Chinese authorities proceeded to revoke the licenses of the Binzhou Futian Biology Technology Company and the Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Company for their role in the 2007 pet food recalls. Lorena et al (2011) added that the closure of the unscrupulous pet food producers also extended to 180 other companies in China suspected to engage in protein adulteration practices.
In the U.S., the Federal Drug Administration banned the importation of the pet food raw materials from Chinese companies, particularly the Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Company. Also, the FDA intensified its regulatory duties by extensively testing other animal and human food products imported from China. Furthermore, the post-crisis interventions included lawsuits against manufacturers of the contaminated pet foods in Europe and North America. According to Eversion (2017), several pet owners filled collective litigations with the purpose of bringing class action lawsuits against the negligent pet food manufacturers. The class action lawsuits attracted penalties amounting to millions of dollars.
The post-crisis responses left lessons for both the Chinese and the American authorities. According to Huang, Pei, Miles, Zhang and Yang (2009), the Chinese authorities learned of the shortcomings of its quality watchdog systems. Consequently, the quality authorities in China enhanced their technical capacities to facilitate the curbing of product adulteration across the country. On the other hand, the American authorities intensified their efforts in streamlining the standards of imports from foreign markets, especially imports from China. Javier et al (2009) reported that the FDA imposed bans on specific manufacturers in China to prevent future importation of substandard products for animal feeds. Moreover, the independent pet food manufacturers learned to separate their operations from the group thinking that had permeated the global pet food industry.
Summary and Conclusion
Evidently, the 2007 pet food recalls was preceded by early warning signs which included the incompetency within the Chinese quality supervision systems. Bhattachary and Chowdhary (2017) concluded that the absence of an effective quality watchdog system in the Chinese food manufacturing sector encouraged the rise of protein adulteration culture in the pet food industry. Thus, the 2007 pet food crisis was triggered by the failure by the Chinese government to prevent the protein adulteration of exports by its pet food manufacturers. The trigger event led to the crisis that began with the importation of the melamine-containing wheat gluten into the global pet food industry. Eventually, the melamine-containing wheat gluten caused the death of dozens of pets in Europe, South African, and North America.
In conclusion, it became apparent that the cultural practices that started and escalated the 2007 pet food crisis revolved around the theoretical frameworks of Drift towards Failure and Group Thinking. The Drift towards Failure model explained the tolerance of unsafe food production practices in the Chinese manufacturing sector. On the other hand, the concept of Group Thinking explained the uniform use of the contaminated wheat gluten by pet food manufacturers in Europe, Africa, and North America. Overall, the post-crisis responses served as valuable lessons to all the stakeholders involved in the global pet food industry. Probably, the lessons learned will prevent future occurrence of similar pet food recalls.
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