"Why are we even waiting for the FDA to get them off the shelves?" said Kevin Thaxton. "It should have been done already."
The Thaxtons say they had fed their dogs Waggin' Train treats, produced by Nestle Purina. The company also produces Canyon Creek Ranch treats, which other consumers have publicly blamed for dog illnesses and deaths. On the Canyon Creek package, an image of a rancher and his dog roaming the farm are on the front; on the back of the bag, the company's address in South Carolina is prominent. Underneath that, in smaller print, it reads: "Product of China."
A spokesperson for Nestle Purina told ABC News that the safety of pets is the company's utmost priority and that production of the treats in China is held to the highest quality and safety standards. "Our chicken jerky treats are safe to feed as directed," said Keith Schopp. He points out that the treats are made in China because white chicken meat is so readily available in the country. Chinese consumers prefer dark meat, leaving an abundance of white meat to be manufactured into treats and imported to the U.S.
But after years of concern over the safety of Chinese imports, including melamine-tainted pet food that the FDA blamed for hundreds of dogs and cat deaths in 2007, consumers -- and lawmakers -- are frustrated with what they say is lax oversight by the federal government.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has been urging Congress to take the Chinese dog treat issue seriously, citing ineffective trade laws that have allowed unsafe products to slip into the U.S.
"[Pet owners] shouldn't have to worry about the safety of the food they give their pets. It's an example again of a trade issue transforming into a safety issue," Brown said on the floor of the Senate in February. "I'm calling on the FDA to accelerate its investigation of the imported pet food, especially food imported from China, where the possibility of food contamination is higher. That's the FDA's job."
The FDA responded to Brown's inquiries in a letter obtained by ABC News, stating that veterinarians at the agency have tested 80 samples and are awaiting results on over 150 more. Melamine tests were negative, as well as tests for toxic metals. "To date," the letter states, "scientists have not been able to determine a definitive cause for the reported illnesses." The letter is signed by the FDA's Assistant Commissioner for Budget.
Brown's office called the FDA response "inadequate" and has sent a second letter to the agency. Brown has criticized how the FDA has made the public aware of its warnings, saying if consumers don't know to go to the FDA website, they'll never know their pets could be at risk.
The FDA wouldn't comment on Brown's statements, telling ABC News it would respond to the senator directly.
Facebook pages and online petitions devoted to pulling the treats from the shelves have been getting reaction from dog owners around the country. One Facebook page is titled "Animal Parents Against Pet Treats and Food Made in China." Another includes photos of dogs who allegedly died from eating the chicken jerky treats.