After a 20-month investigation in collaboration with (and initiated by) Bayer Animal Health, the EPA has "ordered retailers and distributors in a number of states to stop selling counterfeit Advantage products which falsely contain EPA registration numbers and labeling for Advantage." (Bayer Press Release) Merial, the manufacturer of Frontline, has also been victimized, and is cooperating with the EPA investigation.
A forum member shared the story of her cat Casey, dying after being treated with counterfeit Advantage, which she had purchased online. A necropsy was performed by her veterinarian, who confirmed the cause of death was attributable to this product.
Before readers panic, it is necessary to know a few things about the nature of topical flea control products, such as Frontline and Advantage. These products are pesticides, and therefore, very carefully regulated by the EPA. Because they are systemic products which travel through the bloodstream of the treated cat or dog, it is extremely important to read the labels carefully, and to follow the directions completely; i.e., avoid "off-label" use.
None of the material published by the EPA, Merial, or Bayer has indicated that the actual product inside the counterfeit packaging is counterfeit. However, the labeling may differ enough, and packaging may omit cautionary material, so that the wrong dosage may actually be used.
It would appear that these counterfeit products have been repackaged in countries outside the U.S., relabeled to appear to be the genuine article, and then illegally imported back into the U.S. for sale to unsuspecting buyers. The relabelling (and often mislabelling) appears to be the real problem.
Here are a few differences in the counterfeit packaging, as cited by the individual companies:
- The only way to determine a legitimate Advantage product from a counterfeit product is by examining the actual applicator tubes that are inside the carton. Since the directions for use on the retail carton (outer box) and instruction leaflet of the legitimate product and the counterfeit product are identical, check the language that is printed on the applicator tubes. The legitimate Advantage products all contain applicator tubes that are printed in English. The most obvious sign of a counterfeit product is that the applicator tubes are printed in a foreign language (most likely French or German).
- The legitimate applicator tubes include EPA Registration Number, the signal word WARNING, and the child hazard warning (Keep Out of Reach of Children). Counterfeit applicator tubes may lack this information.
- Legitimate applicator tubes will also include a reference statement that refers users to the main labeling for directions for use and will include the manufacturing company's name (Bayer). Counterfeit applicator tubes may lack this information. (See illustration.)
- Legitimate applicator tubes will contain an active ingredient statement that agrees with the active ingredient statement on the retail carton (9.1% imidacloprid). A counterfeit product may have an active ingredient statement that differs (such as 10%).
Merial's top priority is the quality of our products and the health and safety of pets. The efforts behind today's announcement help ensure that the quality of our products remains unquestioned. We are concerned that:
- The label may not have the proper usage statements.
- The label may not reflect the proper dosage and weight requirements of the pet.
- The label may have confusing instructions regarding the dosage and weight of the pet because it uses the metric system rather than conventional US measurements.
- The label may not reflect Merial's special toll-free number in place for customers to call with questions about FRONTLINE products.
Merial goes on to add ways of telling the difference between Frontline manufactured for sales in the U.S. and the counterfeit imports:
- In general, there are some simple ways to visually identify authentic packaged product. Inside the box, the FRONTLINE product is contained in a foil blister pack that holds the individual product applicators. In the genuine product packaged for the US, this blister pack is labeled with instructions to use scissors to open the foil or to lift and remove the plastic tab to expose the foil. Conversely, counterfeit packaged product contains no such instructions.
- Visually, the back of the US packaging blister pack holding the product applicators is black and white; counterfeit packaging may contain orange colored bars on the back of the blister pack and may include foreign language such as the words "usage veterinaire." (See Illustration #2) To further identify the differences in packaging, pet owners are encouraged to visit www.FRONTLINE.com/epa.
Bayer urges consumers to buy their flea control products only from licensed, practicing veterinarians. They go further by adding "Any time a product is not purchased from a licensed veterinarian with a doctor-client-patient relationship there is a risk that the product is counterfeit, and may not be effective."
On the other hand, there are some very reputable online pet supply firms owned by veterinarians, and many people enjoying the convenience of ordering online. It seems inconsistent for Bayer to take this stand when they continue to supply their product to these online stores. The EPA has issued "stop sale, use, and removal orders" to those companies selling the counterfeit products, so it should be just a matter of time before those sales cease.
In the meantime, if you are among the group that purchases products online, here are a few rules to keep in mind, for your cat's safety:
Know and Trust Your Supplier
Establish a trusting relationship with the online company before ordering any health-related products. Do they have a help line for questions about products? Do they have a money-back guarantee? What is the overall quality of their products and service?
Read the Labels!
Learn to read the labels of all products you buy for your cats, and most especially, health-related products.
If You Have Doubts, Call the Manufacturer
If you have any doubts at all that the product you've received from an online retailer is not the real thing, call the manufacturer. Both Bayer and Merial have posted phone numbers in their press releases for that purpose.
Follow Label Directions
Don't let some "expert" convince you that you can safely divvy up a dog's dose of Advantage among your two or three cats.
Manufacturers spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours on research before establishing correct dosage amounts. To take unnecessary chances with your cat's health to save a few bucks is a false economy.