PETitionz.org: Your Link to Voicing Pet Food Recall Concerns

Are you upset about the recent Menu Foods pet recall and the continuing search for clues as to why it happened? Do you feel procedures should be reevaluated and/or upgraded so something like this can’t happen again? Want to do something about it?

You’re not alone.

Built in just five days, Ron Smith, together with the help of volunteers, launched PETitionz.org on April 1. I found out about it thanks to a comment Mr. Smith left on a Week in Review blog not too long ago. I contacted him and asked if he would consider being featured in a blog of his own. To my delight, he agreed!

Below is the interview that resulted:

Courtney Mroch: Can you tell Families.com readers a little bit about Petitionz.org, its mission, and what they can do to help?

Ron Smith: The mission is simple. Encourage enforcement of current regulation where it exists. Create good legislation where it is needed to guarantee safety and quality. Have a testing process that will report to the public and keep everyone on their toes on a constant basis.

People can help most by engaging bloggers and other communicators to spread the word –be creative by using audio, video, music or whatever to tell the story. We are just about to start a new blitz to try and get people to help by posting everywhere, signing the PETition of course, doing videos to make people aware there is something positive they can do, and even blitzing internet radio stations, podcasters and others to get out the story. Funny works as does sad to get people to pay attention.

Any rational idea to help others learn about what they can do to help is most welcome.

We are just about to put up our first poster for people to download, print and post in their nearest pet store, veterinary, animal shelter, school bulletin board, food store or anywhere else where there is traffic and people can read.

CM: If I understood correctly, your site is trying to influence legislation in all of North America, meaning the U.S. and Canada. Am I right?

RS: We would very much like to think that this would be possible. Given the reach of the web and the power of the communicators (especially bloggers) it should be possible. It is slightly different in each country in that in the U.S., the FDA already has regulations on the books but doesn’t have the enforcement mechanism to be pro-active. In Canada, there is NO regulation and the federal Minister of Agriculture doesn’t seem to think there is a problem . . .

So there really are two parallel paths that need to be walked:

1. In the U.S. we need to urge Congress to enforce the rules already on the books of the FDA –this means funding and political will. There also needs to be a random testing process to make sure that the pet food manufacturers are always on their toes about ingredients and quality control. This testing could either be by an arms-length third party organization (charitable – 501c3?) in collaboration with a dedicated volunteer corps if the money isn’t there to fund a full blown ongoing government process that would have the same effect –either way could be good if the right safeguards were put in place.

2. In Canada, maybe a good start would be with reading the FDA regulations to see what might be useful and then adapt the best stuff for Canadian conditions. Then you would need to continue with a similar testing process as the one mentioned above.
I personally think, knowing pet people and being owned by seven cats, that ongoing public involvement to help with this and keep costs down could be a very powerful mechanism to ensure this never happens again.

We continue to work on getting the word out about the PETition as the “old” media folk’s interest really does fade quickly if there isn’t a constant supply of sad or outrageous new material. Our feeling is that the web is emerging as the true champion of a new active democracy driven by those who care enough to keep things going.

CM: What prompted you to start Petitionz.org?

RS: My better 3/4’s, Karen, and I have had cats that owned us for years. We have recently lost four pets due to problems other than this pet food issue so our hearts go out to all of those going through this most horrible of times. It’s doubly horrible when you are trusting others with your pet’s life believing fully that you are doing the best you can.

I have just started to learn about building web sites so I thought that I could use my time learning to try and help with this. We are working with 2 other much more technically knowledgeable volunteers, Stefan and Tim, who share the concern and sadness.

It is my personal hope that something like this will prove the power of the web to accelerate and/or bring about change through the power of individuals communicating for a common purpose.

CM: Have you had any success yet getting heard?

RS: Every time a blogger takes the time to do something we get good traffic. Every time some unfortunate soul is affected by this and lets their friends know about the PETition we get good traffic. Personal and passionate in pursuit of a positive outcome is what we need to carry the day. So spreading the word is the only way to get things done –it will take as long as it takes to get the weight needed to change things for the better.

We do need the help of more traditional media also, but so far they have been strangely uninterested (we’ve done precisely one radio interview with a Canadian radio station to date). We thought that by taking a positive approach, staying focused on what we need to do together, that this would garner wider media attention –guess we were very wrong so far. Our last press release with the 6 most interesting questions people had asked should have been a no-brainer for a reporter looking for a different story angle –guess we just didn’t get to the right people.

CM: Are you only tackling pet food manufacturing safety issues, or are there other causes you are (or will be) petitioning for?

RS: At the moment we are only interested in this. We are a 12 year old charity with a wide range of successful community projects under our belt, but this is our first solely web-driven project so for. We do pass other good and needy issues along when we run into them but there are only so many years in one day.

CM: You mentioned your cats earlier. Care to tell us a little bit about them?

RS: Karen and I are proudly owned by seven cats. We have five strays mostly from one farm (Morse, Maddie, Bentley, Harris and Muse – more commonly known as Snort) and two new guys from our local pound (MacTavish & Cadence). Some are Tabbies, one is part Siamese and the others represent the local cat Variety chapter.

CM: Thanks so much again for your time.

RS: Courtney, I hope this is what you wanted. We all appreciate your enthusiasm on behalf of our canine and feline friends.

CM: Yours is the enthusiasm we appreciate!