CHINA FOOD. Who can trust it? Buy at your own risk and now at your pet's risk.
Hundreds of dog owners in eight states who believe contaminated chicken jerky treats from China sickened or killed their pets are banding together in a class-action lawsuit against Nestle Purina, the maker of two popular brands of the canine snacks, and several mega-stores that sell them.
They are suing just as Food and Drug Administration officials have refused to release results of inspections of Chinese plants that make the jerky treats blamed for at least 1,000 illnesses and deaths in U.S. pets.
'I don't have any new information,' FDA spokeswoman Tamara Ward said in an email to msnbc.com.
The inspections were expected to shed some light into what toxins may have caused pet problems ranging from nausea and vomiting to kidney failure. Despite repeated tests, the FDA has identified no problems with Chinese-made chicken jerky treats.
In a letter dated July 5, FDA officials denied entirely an msnbc.com public records request for results of the February inspections of treat plants, saying release would violate rules protecting trade secrets and confidential commercial information and that it could also interfere with enforcement proceedings.
The lawsuit filed in federal court expands an April complaint by Dennis Adkins, 57, of Orland Park, Ill., who said his 9-year-old Pomeranian, Cleo, died in March after eating Waggin' Train "Yam Good" dog treats produced by Nestle Purina Pet Care Co.
It adds six pet owners in states from coast to coast who are suing not only the treat maker, but also Wal-Mart, Target and Costco, three big retailers that sell the products.
And it seeks to join with a lawsuit filed in federal court last month by a Connecticut family who believe their two Boston terriers, Max and Toby, died after eating chicken jerky treats they didn't realize were suspect.
'Toby was falling over and crying out in pain and we would give him another treat because we thought we were doing something nice for him because he was hurting,' said Philip Mawaka, 69, a Hartford, Conn., pastor whose wife, Elizabeth, is named as the plaintiff.
Lawyers for Nestle Purina and the three store chains said they couldn't comment on the specifics of the suits because the litigation is pending.
'We believe the claims made in the suit to be without merit and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves,' said Keith Schopp, a spokesman for Nestle Purina and Waggin' Train. "We can say that Waggin' Train products continue to be safe to feed as directed."
Three top brands of chicken jerky treats were among those most recently cited by pet owners and veterinarians in complaints of harm, FDA records obtained by msnbc.com showed. They included Waggin' Train and Canyon Creek Ranch, brands produced by Nestle Purina, and Milo's Kitchen Home-style Dog Treats, produced by the Del Monte Corp.
Import data compiled by the firm ImportGenius showed that Waggin' Train and Canyon Creek Ranch treats are produced and supplied by JOC Great Wall Corp. Ltd. of Nanjing, China.
The expanded lawsuit claims to represent nearly all pet owners in the U.S. who bought any dog treat product made or sold by Nestle Purina containing chicken imported from China in the past four years, court records show.
The dog owners say they're frustrated that the makers and distributors of the treats have failed to recall the products voluntarily, despite three federal warnings since 2007 about possible safety issues and nearly 1,000 reports to the FDA of dogs sickened or killed by the products.