A failure in Sainsbury's process for notifying customers about product recalls left many customers unaware that they may have bought toxic cat food, currently under investigation due to hundreds of cat deaths across the UK
In the retailer’s process, emails were sent by the marketing department, meaning those who had opted out of Sainsbury’s marketing communications did not receive the alerts informing them of the product recall until mid-July, even though the first alert had gone out on 16 June.
An alert was announced for several products after vets reported their concerns over particularly high numbers of cat deaths this quarter.
The recall covered several products produced by Fold Hill Foods, which supplies Sainsbury’s hypoallergenic range, Pets at Home’s Ava, and Applaws.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) launched an investigation following a significant rise in the number of cat deaths due to pancytopenia – a very rare condition where the number of blood cells rapidly decreases, with over 63% of cats contracting it dying from the disease.
The RVC reported that 539 cats had been diagnosed with the disease last month, representing a jump from one per week in March to 100 per week in June.
However, estimates suggest the true number of deaths could be in the thousands as many owners choose not to pay for autopsies, and only a small percentage of vets pass data on to the RVC.
As part of the investigation, the team found the 539 pets had been fed similar hypoallergenic foods, which were tested and found to contain small amounts of mycotoxins, a dangerous type of mould.
After more than six weeks they are yet to determine a link between the pet foods and the cat deaths, and other factors are being explored. The investigation is ongoing.
A Sainbury’s spokesperson said the company supports the investigation and is “not willing to take any risks where the safety of our products is concerned”.
A spokesperson from Applaws told Supply Management the company was “heartbroken” over the news.
“We’re working extremely closely with the FSA and RVC to find out precisely what happened, and we’re really sorry for the distress many cat owners are feeling,” the company said.
Fold Hill Foods told SM it is working with the FSA and RVC to investigate the issue and “understood” the anger felt by cat owners across the UK.
“We continue to fully cooperate with both the FSA and the RVC as they continue to investigate all potential causes of the pancytopenia cases, feed and non-feed related,” it said.
“We fully understand how upsetting and stressful this situation is and the urgent need to establish why there has been an increase in cases of pancytopenia in the UK.”
More than 100 cat owners have contacted law firm Leigh Day, which is considering taking legal action, depending on the outcome of the investigation.