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This story by Phyllis Entis first appeared in Food Safety News and is reposted here with permission.

Even though the owners of Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Co. Inc. had a state license to process horse meat from Feb. 14, 2016, through Aug. 17, 2017, they denied any knowledge of how horse meat found its way into their products.

The pet food company’s license application submitted to the Illinois Department of Agriculture described Evanger’s operations as “canning of pet food” and indicated the horse meat would be sold as “canned pet food” according to information obtained from the department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

It is not illegal to use horse meat as pet food in the United States, as long as it’s presence is disclosed on the labeling, a spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration said.

Evanger’s horse meat processing activities predated the issuance of the state license.

In April 2015, the Illinois agriculture department received a complaint from the Wheeling, IL, fire marshal about improper food storage and disposal, clogged and maggot-filled grease traps, and other unsanitary conditions at Evanger’s Wheeling Road facility. The state initiated an inspection of the facility on May 27, 2015.

During the investigation of the company’s operations, inspectors noted the manufacture of a dog food with horse meat as an ingredient.

As a result of conditions observed during the May inspection, the state of Illinois filed a formal complaint against Evanger’s, charging the company with violations of the Illinois Commercial Feed Act of 1961, the Illinois Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and the Illinois Horse Meat Act.

The complaint stated that Evanger’s “… canned, packed or otherwise processed or prepared for sale a pet food with horsemeat listed as its main ingredient” without having secured a license to do so, and that the company did so under unsanitary conditions.

According to information contained in the report on a follow-up inspection, conducted in January 2016, Evanger manufactured only canned dog and cat foods in the Wheeling facility, receiving raw and frozen pork, chicken, beef and horse meats. The horse meat was imported from foreign countries, the report stated.

One year later, in January 2017, FDA launched an investigation into pentobarbital contamination in a canned, wet dog food manufactured by Evanger’s in June 2016. The investigation was in response to a consumer complaint following the death of a dog who had been fed some “Evanger’s Hunk of Beef au Jus” dog food. 

During the investigation, FDA arranged for lab tests to determine the species of meats present in several samples of the same batch of food eaten by the dead dog. Traces of horse antigens were found in one of the samples.

As reported by Food Safety News in February 2017, those level of horse antigens would be consistent with incidental cross-contamination if horse meat was processed in the same facility as the beef-based dog food.

The owners of Evanger’s denied any knowledge of how horse meat had found its way into their products, and cast blame on their beef supplier, Bailey Farms LLC. On April 25, 2017, Evanger’s filed a lawsuit against Bailey, alleging that it had shipped pentobarbital-contaminated horsement instead of the “pet food quality beef” ordered by Evanger’s.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, and throughout the entire period during which the company manufactured dog food that was later found to be adulterated with pentobarbital, Evanger’s license to process horse meat was active and in force. 

Evanger’s horse meat license expired in August 2017 and has not been renewed.

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