No charges have been laid over the sale and manufacture of contaminated pet food which killed 24 dogs and made a further 44 seriously ill with liver disease in Victoria.
- A joint investigation into a cluster of dog deaths linked to toxic pet food results in no prosecutions
- Horse meat was minced into the pet food, without buyers’ knowledge
- There are growing calls for national, mandatory regulations for pet food
A joint investigation by PrimeSafe and Agriculture Victoria found pet food manufacturing laws were not broken and there was no fault in the supply chain.
While retailers have recalled the toxic meat, authorities are concerned more dogs could die if pet owners still have the contaminated pet food in their freezers at home.
The dogs ate meat from the Maffra District Knackery in Gippsland that contained indospicine, a toxin found in the low-growing native Australian herb in the Indigofera species.
“We know that the knackery received some horses from the Northern Territory and the Northern Territory is where the plant that produces this toxin grows in abundance,” Victoria’s chief veterinary officer Dr Graeme Cooke said.
“The risk window between the 31st of May and the 3rd of July is the important window and that is why we’re asking owners to check if they have frozen pet meat in their freezers,” Dr Cooke said.
“This is a rare and unusual event in Victoria, it’s never happened before and this is by far the most likely pathway,” Dr Cooke said.
A truckload of about 25 horses from the Northern Territory bound for Queensland was redirected to Victoria due to COVID lockdowns
But not all of them were processed at the knackery in Maffra and authorities are trying to determine whether the others made their way into another area of the pet food supply chain.
“To the best of our knowledge we have no evidence of that, and we have been working with other knackeries and processors,” Dr Cooke said.
Dr Cooke said national horse traceability standards were also being reviewed.
Northern Territory travelling rural vet Campbell Costello said there had been an increase in reports of neurological problems in horses caused by indospicine.
“Horses are more resistant to the liver damage affects of this plant but they are quite susceptible to the neurological problems caused by it.” he said.
He said that on his travels he heard stories from locals saying they had “seen an increase in bizarre neurological disease in horses and unexplainable deaths”.
The low-growing herb responds well to rain and is tasty to livestock due to its high protein content.
“There’s no cure for this,” he said.
“Once the animal, whether it’s a dog or a horse that gets it, we can only give supportive therapies such as fluids, maybe some anti-inflammatories.
“But once the damage is done, it’s done.”
Push for pet food standards
In a statement, the Victorian Agriculture minister Mary-Anne Thomas said the government was eagerly awaiting the findings of the working group established by the Commonwealth — almost three years ago — to review the regulation of pet food.
“I have written to [federal] Minister [David] Littleproud seeking an update on the working group and to encourage a nationally consistent approach to ensuring the safety and quality of pet food,” she said.
The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) RSPCA Australia and the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA) have also written to Mr Littleproud calling for national regulations.
“Currently, the only standard that exists is a voluntary standard and that standard is not audited,” AVA representative Dr Sue Foster said.
“Pets are family members, the community expectation is that pet food should be regulated in exactly the same way as human food and the AVA strongly recommends that there is nationwide government regulation of pet food.
“It can’t go under the human framework, it doesn’t seem to fit under the animal welfare framework.
“And so this seems to be causing the government some concern about … who should actually be responsible in each state and territory and at a federal level,” Dr Foster said.
Mr Littleproud said while the regulation of the domestic pet food industry was a decision for the states and territories, he shared the concerns.
“That’s why I set up the pet food review working group,” he said.
“The group has taken into consideration the recommendations of a Senate inquiry into the safety of pet food.”
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