A congressional panel has recommended the recall of flea-and-tick collars linked to 2,500 pet deaths.
The Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy released a 24-page report this week on Seresto Flea and Tick Collars.
The findings follow a 16-month investigation into issues with the $70 collar, which is designed to protect dogs and cats from fleas and ticks. Millions of the flea collars have been sold since 2013.
Convenience is the main selling point: while most flea-and-tick treatments need to be applied monthly, the collars claimed eight months of protection for dogs and cats. They were designed to release small amounts of pesticide over the course of several months.
The product, originally made by Bayer Animal Health, which is now owned by Elanco Animal Health headquartered in Greenfield, Indiana, has been linked to 98,000 incidents involving “unexpected effects” and 2,500 pet deaths, according to the subcommittee.
The subcommittee found the EPA rushed the collar’s approval process and employed dodgy science in doing so. The EPA first became aware of possible problems with the collar in 2015, ranking the Seresto collars No. 1 “by a wide margin” when it came to incidents with flea-and-tick products.
Seresto collars had nearly three times the number total incidents and nearly five times the rate of “deaths” or “major” incidents when compared to the second-most problematic flea-and-tick product. Canadian regulators didn’t approve the collar, ruling it posed “too great a risk to pets and their owners.”
Despite these issues, the EPA allowed the product to remain on the market, even after determining Seresto collars “probably or possibly caused 45%” of 251 pet deaths reviewed by agency.
Within the EPA, some officials voiced frustration over the continued availability of the Seresto collars and expressed relief at a report published by Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and USA Today in March 2021.
“I hope there is a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act request] for all communications on this so that our emails are made public,” one scientist wrote. “We have been screaming about this for many years.” Another EPA official wrote that they hoped “this time someone can blow the lid off this travesty.”
Symptoms among pets, humans
Problems from the collar included lethargy, abnormal behavior, excessive grooming and vocalization, vomiting and diarrhea among pets. Irritated skin and lesions were also common. Some pets suffered from convulsions, muscle tremors or lost control of bodily movements.
Some pet owners noticed the symptoms and removed the collars early, the report indicated, citing information from Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA).
But pets were not the only ones at risk, according to PMRA findings. From 2012 through 2015, 357 pet owners reported problems stemming from the collars. According to data obtained by the PMRA from Bayer, “major” and “moderate” incidents totaled about 106 instances.
People reported things like hives and dermatitis. Some individuals experienced respiratory and neurological effects as well as dizziness, nausea or throat irritation. The problems were “probably or possibly caused by exposure to the Seresto collar,” the PMRA found.
The Canadian agency decided the only way to stop the collars from causing problems was to prohibit them from being sold in Canada. The PMRA rejected Bayer’s application to sell the product within its borders.
The EPA compiled similar data, the subcommittee found, but despite “overwhelming evidence” of potential problems, the U.S. agency approved the product and allowed it to remain on the market for years.
Downplaying the issues
In 2017, according to a whistleblower, at least one senior official with the Trump Administration tried to “tamp down” concerns over problems with the Seresto collars.
“Acting on orders from a senior EPA official, an EPA scientist instructed two other EPA officials to stop expressing their concerns about Seresto over email,” according to the report.
From the report:
In September 2018, according to documents released via a FOIA request, an EPA scientist reported 125 pet deaths linked to the Seresto collar in the second quarter of that year—“the highest number we have seen.” The scientist added that there had been 361 deaths linked to Seresto from August 30, 2017, to April 1, 2018, reflecting a trend of increasing death incidents.
Things got even worse in November 2018, when another EPA scientist shared data for the third quarter and reported 148 pet deaths. The scientist observed that the Seresto collar was “the only product where we are seeing this trend.”
The report maintained that Bayer was aware of issues with the collars. Even so, the EPA proposed only “limited actions” to address the problem. The agency met with Bayer in July 2019, although it appeared nothing came from the meeting and no regulatory action took place.
Bayer rejected suggestions such as updating warning labels on the products. The labels remained unchanged. Another suggestion involved separate registrations for cat and dog collars to allow the EPA to better track data. Bayer decided the measure was too burdensome; an EPA product manager was sympathetic and agreed.
After Elanco Animal Health’s acquisition of Bayer in 2020, the Seresto collars “immediately became Elanco’s ‘top product globally,’” the report said. Bayer said it had provided its new owner with all relevant data relating to the collars.
Elanco, like Bayer, didn’t make any changes to the label in the U.S., even after the March 2021 USA Today report came to light. Seresto labels in Colombia classified the product as “highly toxic” while Australia’s label said, “POISON.”
Elanco, the report said, remained in denial about problems with the collars and had “taken the position that the safety and toxicity studies of the collar’s active ingredients do not support the claim that the collar could cause serious harm to animals.”
The subcommittee launched its investigation on March 17, 2021—about nine years after the collar received regulatory approval.
After the 16-month investigation, the subcommittee made three main recommendations:
- Recall Seresto collars and begin the process of canceling the collar’s registration
- Strengthen the EPA’s scientific review process
- Improve incident data collection
“For too long, the Seresto collar has harm to many pets, and their owners,” the report concluded.
Elanco, in a March 2021 statement, said it planned to take no market action and maintained adverse events in the U.S. were below 0.3%. It said it has sold more than 25 million Seresto collars since the EPA approved the product.