This FDA page has the majority of the answers to your questions. The Jerky Pet Treats Fact Sheet (PDF) is an FDA-hosted resource for pet owners. I will summarize the major points below, but if you are concerned, you need to visit the FDA site.
Regarding the news alerts
The primary FDA Jerky Treats page updates with alerts. This has been going on since 2007. You heard about it in the news today because the FDA sent letters out to veterinarians yesterday (October 22, 2013) with information on how to alert their clients, and the news stations report on updates. The summary pages on the FDA site were also updated, though I am unable to identify changes. Prior reports include those from 2010, 2011, 2012 and earlier in 2013.
Summary of the Issue
According to the FDA, pets are becoming ill when consuming jerky-based pet treats, the majority of which are sourced from China. Since 2007, dogs and cats have been affected with at least 3600 reports including over 580 deaths.
What types of treats?
Chicken-based, duck-based and sweet potato-based jerky (treats, tenders, strips), including those which use one or more as a combined ingredient.
Which consumer brands?
There is no single identified brand, but the majority are sourced from China. If the package does not state the country of origin, it may still be sourced from China or another exporter.
What about recalls?
While reports are ongoing, identified treats are being removed from store shelves.
Which areas are affected?
This is not confined to any geographic location. Other countries than the U.S. may be affected, see the pages for further information.
What are the signs of illness?
If you are feeding jerky pet treats, look within hours or days for:
- decreased appetite / activity
- vomiting, diarrhea
- increased water consumption
- increased urination
If your pet shows signs, contact your vet and save the treat product in the original packaging for future testing. You can report your findings to the FDA by calling 1-888-INFO-FDA.
What is the poison?
Inconclusive at the moment, though instances are reported of unapproved antibiotics being identified. It may be a combination of factors.
Where can I get further information?
The FDA Q&A Page (linked previously) goes on to explain how they conduct inspections, testing, and additional information including other affected countries.