On November 18, 2019, Steven Henshaw, an independent reporter for the Reading Eagle, a leading source of news for Reading, PA and Berks County area, published his story about the company and the discussion about raw and raw fermented pet foods.
His story explains the beginning of Answers, covers current ongoing issues, and includes interview comments from members of the Answers family.
You can read Henshaw’s full article – titled “Berks raw food company sues federal government”– here
Key points in reporter Henshaw’s story for the Reading Eagle article include the following:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates pet food and animal feed, has cast a wary eye on animal food that hasn’t been rendered completely free of microbes through high-temperature heating or other conventional methods. As the raw food market continued to grow, federal regulators began to push back, aggressively pulling raw products off the market to test to potentially harmful bacteria such as salmonella.
But, noted Henshaw:
In the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado, the plaintiffs [Answers Pet Food] are asking a judge to force the FDA and Colorado Department of Agriculture to stop enforcing a zero-tolerance standard, which they contend is backed by neither science nor law.
“At the end of the day what it really comes down to is the food regulators don’t have the science to properly regulate pet food,” said Joseph A. O’Keefe, the plaintiff’s lawyer.
And, most critically:
The zero-tolerance standard for pet food isn’t even applied to raw meat that is processed and packaged for human consumption, O’Keefe said, as trace levels of salmonella are commonly found in chicken and beef.
Answers is receiving support in its lawsuit from the D.C.-based Weston A. Price Foundation, formed 20 years ago to advocate universal access to raw milk and promote other nutrient-dense foods in the human diet.
But, in point of fact, Answers isn’t quite like other “raw” pet food companies, the article and interview with some of the founding family members notes:
“The thing that makes our company unique is that everything we put on the market has a fermentation component to it,” Jacqueline explained. “When we decided to put products on the market, this was my way of ensuring it wasn’t going to make anyone sick, because fermentation actually protects against the bad bacteria.”
The company essentially uses processes similar to those that wine makers and brewers, or the makers of food products like sauerkraut, have employed for centuries. Workers add fermented vegetables to uncooked beef, chicken, pork and turkey.
This promotes the growth of beneficial microbes, crowding out potential pathogens.
The article also includes the story of the founding of Answers, and notes that something going on in Jacqueline’s own life inspired her to learn about and believe the raw food movement. From the article:
When Jacqueline Hill started giving raw milk to her family a few decades ago, she noticed immediate benefits, and soon indoctrinated the entire family with an almost religious fervor for whole foods for wellness.
As the children got older, Jacqueline went to work for a company that made raw pet food.
The raw food market, a relatively new segment of the pet food industry, was growing rapidly, Jacqueline said, because it was result-driven: consumers shared how their dogs’ itchy skin and arthritis and other conditions were alleviated when they switched to a raw-food canine diet.
There’s scientific explanation for such testimonials, she said.
Food that hasn’t been cooked is better for dogs because it’s rich in probiotics—live bacteria and yeast that are good for the digestive system. And many dry dog foods contain a higher ratio of carbohydrates than the ideal canine diet, contributing to digestive problems that affect their immune systems.
But, as reporter Henshaw’s article goes on to note, things began to change:
“A lot of companies out there went to process called HPP (high pressure pasteurization),” Jacqueline said. “The company I was working for decided they were going to start doing this (HPP) and I could not support that because from a science background that was not raw anymore.”
So, Jacqueline Hill and her family joined forces, and thought of a way to make raw pet food even better. The article tells the story.
In 2009, Jacqueline and members of her family launched their own raw dog food company, Lystn LLC, trading as Answers Pet Food. Their products use fermentation, rather than heating or pasteurization, and are available only on the freezer shelves of smaller stores specializing in pet products.
The article then tracks the behind-the-scenes regulatory issues in the industry that, after a number of years, finally led to Lystn (Answers Pet Food) filing their lawsuit in 2019:
In a federal lawsuit, Answers Pet Food alleges the FDA has conspired with its regulatory partners to carry out an illegal “shadow regulation” policy to mask the FDA’s failure to enact formal rules as instructed by Congress in the wake of the tainted pet food/animal feed crisis of 2006-07.
In March 2007, it was discovered that tainted wheat gluten from China that was used as a thickener for gravy in the canned and pouched wet food products of one dog-food manufacturer caused dogs to become sick, with one in six dying of renal failure.
The national crisis had implications not only for the health and safety of pets but also the vulnerability of the food supply. Congress ordered the secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with its regulatory partners and other stakeholders, to establish regulations for the processing standards for pet food and updating standards for labeling nutrition and ingredient information pet food.
“Despite this, and contrary to law, all but 12 years after a united Congress passed a specific law requiring FDA to get its act together and conduct formal rule-making relative to pet food AND animal feed, little has changed,” the lawsuit states.
As a result:
Federal food regulators instead have been applying a “desk policy” zero-tolerance standard for salmonella that isn’t appropriate for their unique processes, the Hills contend.
And, something else to consider:
The FDA’s actions are causing irreparable harm to not only to his clients but the whole supply chain, O’Keefe said. Answers contracts with dozens of small farms for meat and vegetables and goat milk — growers whose livelihoods depend continuous production unique to the company’s products.
Read Henshaw’s full READING EAGLE article here (link)