Exclusive: Seresto ‘killer collars’ stories still uncorroborated by any veterinarian more than one year later, EPA concedes in statement

Over the past year, USA Today has published twelve stories snowballing from one original story whose underlying premise is that Seresto flea and tick collars were “linked to almost 1,700 pet deaths.” Last week, The Canine Review obtained a statement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency that regulates the collars, through spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn indicating that more than one year later, no licensed veterinarian has corroborated any of the raw data cited by USA Today.

TCR’s reporting in the days that followed the original ‘Killer Collar’ Seresto story established that the story was flawed, incomplete, and misleading. The reporter and his editors ignored or never tried to understand fundamental facts from the go-to authorities on animal health: veterinarians. Indeed, veterinarians, including veterinary toxicologists, reacted to the USA Today story with almost unanimous pushback that undercut the core of the story.

That input was the same key ingredient TCR spotlighted as missing from the original USA Today reports: No veterinarians were cited as worrying about the supposed toxicity of the collars. And when TCR interviewed veterinarians who specialize in these issues, they were unanimous in disagreeing with USA Today’s “diagnosis.”

Now, EPA’s statement, just issued to The Canine Review, acknowledges that “veterinary toxicologists are not involved in reviewing the cases,” and that, therefore, the EPA is now requesting the help of the Food and Drug Administration to conduct a “review of the incident data and other studies submitted to EPA.” (Read the full-text EPA statement to The Canine Review by scrolling down:)

However,  FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine spokeswoman Siobhan Delancey told TCR that the FDA was ‘providing its expertise to assist EPA with reviewing safety data upon request’ and in a ‘limited capacity.’ She added:

“The review is currently on-going. Because FDA involvement is limited to consultation, comprehensive analysis of the data and resulting conclusions remain under the purview of EPA. This means that any conclusions about potential connections between use of the collars and any adverse outcomes would be EPA’s.”

Seresto ‘Killer Collars’ stories never met minimum journalism standards

The stories, all bylined by one writer who is not on the payroll of publisher Gannett, were outsourced products of a little-known operation called Investigate Midwest, whose mission, according to its website, is “to serve the public interest by exposing dangerous and costly practices of influential agricultural corporations and institutions through in-depth and data-driven investigative journalism.” If that mission statement sounds opinionated and biased to you, that’s because it is. If the reporter paid by this organization had checked with veterinarians and been told that their real-world experience is that there is no evidence that Seresto collars are dangerous, would he have written the story?  That would hardly be consistent with his boss’s mission of “exposing dangerous…practices.” Journalists are supposed to follow the facts where they lead, not pursue stories to fit a pre-ordained narrative (in this case, corporations’ “dangerous and costly practices”).

Reacting to the EPA statement, Keri McGrath, a spokesperson for Seresto manufacturer Elanco, wrote:

We appreciate the EPA’s approach to collaborate with additional scientific experts like those at the FDA.

The science confirms the safety of Seresto and its effectiveness against fleas and ticks, which can carry such serious human and animal diseases as Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever among many others.

All of the USA stories about the collars, all bylined by Johnathan Hettinger, were apparently based on the assumption that someone, somewhere, had confirmed that the adverse events purportedly associated with dogs wearing the collars were linked to the collars. But now it seems clear — at least according to the EPA and to the veterinarians that The Canine Review has repeatedly consulted – that there is as of yet no evidence of such a link.

Mike Reed, CEO of USA Today publisher Gannett, has refused to comment along with even the publisher’s standards editor Michael McCarter, about the apparent lapses in the reporting that went into these 13 stories, including not consulting veterinarians.

CBS News and congressman also hoodwinked

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill) was one of the first to hop on the Seresto-as-killer bandwagon when the USA Today story was published. Within days of the story, he gave an interview to CBS News pushing for the product to be recalled. And, as we reported last year, CBS News also seemed to have repeated the same mistakes as USA Today, neglecting to corroborate any of the raw data with veterinarians; the network has refused repeated requests to comment). This week, Rep. Krishnamoorthi and his office had no comment when asked about the EPA statement, though we will continue to follow up. Indeed,  Rep. Krishnamoorthi vowed to ‘get to the bottom of it’ and we are eager to learn what he and his staff find.

Statement from EPA spokesperson Cathy Milbourn to TCR

Under the Biden-Harris administration, EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention has affirmed its commitment to scientific integrity as an essential and critical element of the Agency’s work. EPA makes evidence-based decisions built on and supported by strong, sound science to ensure the safety of chemicals used in our everyday lives.

This commitment extends to EPA’s regulation of all pesticide products, including Seresto pet collars. EPA understands and shares the public’s concerns about reported incidents with these collars. Pets hold a special place in the hearts of many Americans, and any incidents that jeopardize their safety are concerning and should be addressed.

On April 27, 2021, EPA sent letters to Elanco and Bayer, the current and former registrants for Seresto pet collars, respectively, reiterating their legally required duty under FIFRA to provide the Agency with information EPA requested regarding unreasonable adverse effects, including adverse reactions and deaths, and sales data for their registered pet products.

EPA received this additional information, which was more extensive than that routinely reported by pesticide product registrants to EPA’s Incident Data System and included detailed sales data, data on annual incident rates, and any incidents reported in other countries where the collars are sold. Therefore, EPA requested and is receiving support from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the review of the incident data and other studies submitted to EPA pursuant to FIFRA Section 6(a)(2) and EPA’s April 27, 2021, letter. EPA and FDA meet on a regular basis to discuss the regulation of animal products, and EPA has kept FDA informed about the activities around the pet collars.

Although veterinary toxicologists are not involved in reviewing the cases, scientists from EPA and FDA that are involved in this investigation have extensive experience in clinical veterinary medicine, toxicology and incident data analysis. The literature and data EPA uses in the analysis are based on the complete toxicology dataset for the active ingredients in the collar, as well as toxicology data from direct testing of the collar on dogs and cats, including puppies and kittens. As the investigation proceeds, outreach to veterinary toxicologists or other veterinary specialists will be pursued, if necessary.

EPA will use incident information to determine whether the continued registration of these pet collars still meets the legally required standard of no unreasonable adverse effects on the environment, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the use of the pesticide. Upon completing the analysis and assessment, EPA may take further action to protect human health and the environment, if needed.

In addition, as part of EPA’s work to address concerns raised about pet collars, the agency asked for public comment on a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity requesting that the agency cancel the Seresto registration and to suspend the registration pending cancellation. The public comment period on the petition closed on Sept. 10, 2021. EPA received comments from over 5,400 sources during the public comment period. EPA will respond to the petition after completing its evaluation of the 6(a)(2) information.

In case you missed it:

USA Today writes another hit job on Seresto; ‘Investigative’ report fails to seek comment; Vets continue to be ignored  4/4/2022

Top vet toxicologist dismantles USA Today Seresto ‘reporting’ — again

Dr. Ahna Brutlag is one of America’s leading veterinary toxicologists. In a telephone interview, Dr. Brutlag reiterated what she had told TCR over one year ago, which was that when animals ingest topical products, there’s significantly higher risk exposure, and therefore, it’s an opportunity to understand the highest risk scenario of a product. Now having gone through all of the data – every phone call to the helpline since the collars launched – Dr. Brutlag said that there were no fatalities linked to collars.   More