One of the comments often made in defense of raw diets and challenging the safety of conventional commercial pet foods is, “If those foods are so safe, why are they always being recalled?” The implication, of course, is that a recall is an indication a food is unsafe. The reality is that while this is sometimes true, many recalls are precautionary, and a real health threat is often not found when the recalled product is analyzed. This information, however, rarely gets the widespread coverage in the media or on the internet that the original recall did.
In any case, even if the suggestion that how many recalls one can remember for a given company or type of food was a reliable guide to safety, it is simply not true that alternative products or those marketed as “natural” and so on are not recalled. I don’t have any statistical analysis comparing the relative rate of recalls, precautionary or related to confirmed health threats, for all the pet food products out there, but it is easy to find examples of recalls involving raw diets, “natural” diets and supplements, and other products marketed as safer or healthier than conventional foods and treats. Dr. Susan Wynn, a veterinarian with specialty training in nutrition and an advocate of many veterinary CAM approaches, frequently reports such recalls on her blog, including several recently involving a raw diet for cats contaminated with Salmonella, and a long list of vitamins and supplements, also with possible Salmonella contamination.
These particular products may or may not present a danger to animal or human health, and certainly if there is a possibility that they do then voluntarily recalling them is the responsible thing for their manufacturers to do. But it’s important to remember that the claims of greater safety or health benefits from raw diets or supposedly “natural” food products are not substantiated by any evidence, and that these products, like any other, can have risks.