Time 20070823: Tainted Pet Food Vs. Lead-Paint Toys

Got this from Dawn’s blog. Very interesting to note that, at least online, people were more interested in the pet food news than the toys.

The author provided some great stats and his rationale for the phenomenon is sound. But I wager the greater interest in the pet food issue is also due to the following

  • Pet food is ingested while toys are for playing. Which poses the greater danger?
  • People got shell-shocked at the scale of the pet food recall. Also it was a precursor of the spate of Chinese product issues. By the time the toys issue came round, everybody’s been round the mountain with Mary a few times, and gotten used to the after-effects of the ride.
  • People trusted the pet food industry. Take a look at the typical copy of pet food advertising, even the junk food/supermart brands. People buy into that drivel, and can’t believe the mother-of-betrayals the pet food industry’s been pulling on them for ever.
  • Some, not many, but some, people were actually concerned enough by the pet food recall to apply thought and concern. They then start digging and finding out more info about pet food and the learning galled and galvanised them to dig somemore.

Anyway, here’s the article:

Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007

Tainted Pet Food Vs. Lead-Paint Toys

A sign explains why a store shelf is empty of pet food after it was pulled from the shelves at Petco

A sign explains why a store shelf is empty of pet food after it was pulled from the shelves at Petco.

Joe Raedle / Getty

There were two significant product recalls this year: tainted pet food and lead-based paint on children’s toys. Two issues that concern the health of your pet and your child. Which is more important to you? Which topic would you seek more information on? It would seem that everyone would choose their child, yet our online behavior reveals a different story.

Internet search data reveals that given the two recalls, our pet’s health is far more worthy of information-seeking than health issues surrounding our children. This month Mattel recalled almost 2 million toys worldwide for lead-based paint and other contamination issues. In response to the news, searches for the term “toy recall” spiked, nearly doubling the two-year average for all product recall searches.

While that would seem to be a significant increase in searches, the toy recall reaction was nothing compared to the pet food recall that occurred in March of this year, when the Food and Drug Administration found that contaminants in hundreds of brands were causing cats and dogs to fall ill. Searches for pet food-related recall issues were over seven times that same two-year average, over double the number of toy recall searches. Certainly protecting our children from the dangers of lead-based paint is more important — or, at the very least, equally as important as tainted pet food — so why the difference in searches? Perhaps media coverage of the two recalls will shed some light on the difference in attention.

Google News indicates that there were over 9,750 online news stories concerning the toy recall while the pet food recall has generated over 77,500 news stories. In fact news websites figure heavily in our search patterns. Take the search term “pet food recall.” In March of this year, when news of the tainted pet food broke, the top sites visited after searching on the term weren’t the manufacturers’ sites with recall information; instead they were MSNBC (12.4%), Google News (11.6%) and CBSNews (9.1%). Contrast that with the Mattel toy recall, where media websites were not the most popular search destination. Searches for “toy recall” resulted in visits to Mattel.com (26.4%), The Consumer Product Safety Commission site, CPSC.gov (17.2%) then to CNN (7.0%).

Or perhaps it’s our empathy for animals that explains the difference in reaction. According to Hitwise, the #1 news search term sending traffic to the New York Times for last week wasn’t the plight of the trapped miners in Utah, it wasn’t the Hurricane Dean threatening the Yucatan Peninsula, or the hundreds dead in the Peru earthquake; it was searches for “Michael Vick.” Sure, the charges the Atlanta Falcons quarterback faces for running a dog-fighting ring and the allegations of animal cruelty are reprehensible, but amongst a field of human tragedy and a potentially catastrophic storm, search term data indicates that the perils of domesticated animals trump all.

Bill Tancer is general manager of global research at Hitwise.

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2 responses to “Time 20070823: Tainted Pet Food Vs. Lead-Paint Toys

  1. Regardless of who’s more interested with what, both recalls are alarming. This may sound Utopic but hopefully commercial companies would be more responsible with their products. Commercial dog food have either caused dog food allergies or worse, cancer to our pets.

    “People trusted the pet food industry. Take a look at the typical copy of pet food advertising, even the junk food/supermart brands. People buy into that drivel, and can’t believe the mother-of-betrayals the pet food industry’s been pulling on them for ever.”

    This is right. We trusted these companies so much we even think commercial dog food is the healthiest and the best for our dogs. And now, toy recalls. This is getting worse!

  2. I think the more alarming aspect of the pet food recall (and therefore more online research) is that consumers feel that they have no control over the quality of pet food whereas they can control the type of toy they buy for their child.

    With toys, one can observe the defect (such as small or sharp parts) and go out and buy another one without those visible features. The consumer is in complete control and can make a simple, verifiable decision simply from their own observation of the products on store shelves.

    Pet food is different. Who knows which dog food brands use which manufacturers (it’s supposed to be on the label, but often is not)? Since many manufacturers are overseas, how are they regulated? For that matter, how is the U.S. regulated? If the U.S. regulations were any good, shouldn’t the problems leading to the recall have been caught? After all, there hasn’t been any “people food” recall of this magnitude lately.

    Folks have a right to worry. The pet food industry is so loosely regulated, that it is really up to the consumer to dive into the label to find out for themselves what is going on each the product.

    Here are some general guidelines:

    Evaluate the product name – if the name uses the word “gravy”, “stew” or similar term or caveats the main ingredient (like “lamb” or “chicken”) with the words “with”, “dinner”, “flavor”, “gourmet”, “premium” or even “natural”, you are right to dig deeper. Check the ingredient list – where does the main labeled ingredient fall? If it is not listed first, don’t buy.

    Make sure the food is fortified with vitamins and minerals. All processed food looses essential nutrients when cooked.

    The label should explicitly state “no artificial coloring or preservatives”. Both of these can be very harmful if present.

    Does the label have a Calorie Statement? If so, they probably follow AAFCO guidelines in other areas as well.

    There are other things to keep your eye out for, such as several harmful ingredients, and it is always a good idea to balance your store-bought dog food with supplements and/or raw dog food.

    Feel free to use our Healthy Label Test to help you figure out whether or not you’ve picked a healthy dog food.

    Jeff – Your Dog Care Guide