By Joseph Johnson
In 2013, Fortune magazine named the Mars PetCare company as one of the top 100 companies to work for.
In June of that year, there were at least a couple hundred employees that more than likely felt quite the opposite. That’s when the company announced that it was closing its plants in Pueblo, Colorado and Joplin, Missouri. The Joplin plant, which operated on west 20th Street near the Missouri-Kansas state line, made Pedigree and other pet foods sold at many major retailers.
According to officials with the company, the economy played a major role in the decision to close the plants. Specifically, excess production capacity and a reduced demand for pet food in the western and central regions of the country; as well as owners making a shift to smaller dogs which means less volume of dry pet food. In addition, retailers have other options for suppliers.
That’s the “official” explanation behind the closing of the Joplin plant. However, events that occurred during the late summer and winter just one year prior to the closing announcement, causes one to consider that there may have been another reason behind the sudden plant closure.
In August of 2012, eight employees filed a lawsuit against the company in the Circuit Court for the 29th Judicial Circuit of Jasper County, Missouri. Among other claims, the eight petitioners alleged that the pet food company should have known about the dangerous condition of phosphine gas levels, but failed to warn of that condition or remove it. The employees also alleged that they became ill after being exposed to a fumigant; causing them severe respiratory illness, gastrointestinal illness and allergy symptoms.
According to a confidential informant, who is a former employee of the plant, “It [the fumigant] causes respiratory and intestinal damage,” The former employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, also said, “We don’t know how much. We know there was stuff coming in that was fumigated and was not listed as being fumigated that went straight into making pet food.”
One of the plaintiffs states that he and other employees discovered the alleged high levels of toxins in 2012 then the company provided them with hand held monitors. According to the former worker, “They said the way the drought is, the farmers would be putting stuff under gas to kill the bugs. And that’s when they gave us the meters. They would have logs where they kept track of what the readings were, and they started taking those. They wouldn’t let us know, and they forged our signatures, saying the levels were at zero,”
Those are some pretty serious allegations. But is there any evidence to support them?
In December of 2012, prompted by the allegations claimed in the lawsuit and by a confidential request of employees in the Joplin plant, investigators from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) showed up in Joplin to do a walk-through visit at the dog food plant. During the visit by NIOSH, investigators discovered evidence of high mold samples, dust and the potential for the release of diacetyl. Diaccetyl has been linked to lung cancer.
The discoveries by NIOSH caused the investigators so much concern, that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) planned to return to the plant in August 2013, in order to launch a full-scale medical and physical evaluation for all of the plant’s employees, including a medical survey to assess the respiratory health of the employees at the plant because of their concerns for possible occupational lung disease.
Mars closed the plant before a follow-up inspection or the medical evaluations could be arranged, making their claims that the closure was due to the economy and not the results of the investigation.
In January of this year, the CDC released an alarming Health Hazard Evaluation report describing unsettling conditions within an unnamed pet food plant in Missouri. You may read a copy of the report by clicking here.
All efforts to reach out to Mars PetCare for their side of the story went unanswered.
Click here to view the lawsuit filed by the eight former employees.