Grantee investigation raises questions about dog-food industry influence in FDA review

Dog food is shown in a pet store in Westfield, Ind., Tuesday, July 19, 2022. In 2018, the FDA began investigating whether the increasing popularity of grain-free dog foods had led to a sudden rise in a potentially fatal heart disease in dogs. Four years later, the FDA has reached no conclusion, but the publicity surrounding the issue has shrunk the once-promising market for grain-free dog foods. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The Food and Drug Administration has been investigating for four years whether the increasing popularity of grain-free dog food has led to a rise in heart disease in dogs, but has yet to reach a conclusion. A tangled web of industry funding and interests appears to have influenced the origin, data collection and course of the FDA study, according to internal FDA records. A six-month investigation by Helen Santoro, writing for 100Reporters with support from the Fund, and published by the Associated Press, found that veterinarians who prompted the FDA to review grain-free dog diets have financial and other ties to the leading sellers of grain-inclusive pet foods. Santoro’s work was prompted by a tipster who helped lead her to examine the issue and seek the records. Santoro found that agency records show that for the initial study, some vets were instructed to submit only cases that implicated grain-free, “exotic” or “boutique” pet foods. Santoro received free legal help through the Fund’s partnership with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and she also received critical assistance from Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors.