NORFOLK, VA – Over the course of the last few weeks, pet owners have heard all kinds of reasons why their pet’s food might be tainted. The problem is, none of the specialists in the area seem to agree on the cause. Now it appears that the original pet food recall, which included some 60 million cans and foil packs of food from Menu Foods, may not have been extensive enough. Evidence indicates that the same contaminate found in poisoned wet food may also be found in the dry food products of an as yet unknown vendor.
Early reports from Menu Foods, the Ontario based company responsible for the initial pet food recall, was that there was a problem with the wheat gluten. This appeared to make sense because a similar problem was responsible for an earlier pet food recall in 2005. At that time, Diamond Pet Foods, a Missouri based company, recalled many varieties of its food when it found aflatoxin in the products. Aflatoxin is a poison produced by fungi that grows on grains of the type typically used to make wheat gluten, the thickening agent for gravy of wet pet food cuts.
On Friday, March 23rd, however, during a press conference, other experts stated that rat poison was the culprit responsible for the most recent string of cat and dog deaths. According to the New York State Food Laboratory, they found 40 parts per million of aminopterin in the food samples provided by Menu Foods.
The use of aminopterin is not allowed in the U.S. except for research purposes because the drug is known to cause cancer and birth defects in humans. Other countries, however, continue to use the substance in rat poison. Experts were quick to agree, however, that it is highly unlikely that the chemical would be used to spray a crop against rodent infestation.
At the time of the March 23rd news conference, the FDA had yet to complete its research into the matter, although they were continuing to focus on the food’s wheat gluten. On Friday, March 30th, the agency finally announced that it believes that melamine – – a product used to make plastics – – may be the likely cause of the pet deaths. It has been found in both the pet food itself as well as in the wheat gluten. The FDA went on to say that they could not confirm any earlier statements regarding rat poison.
Cornell University scientists also report finding the chemical, which is sometimes used as a fertilizer in Asia, in the urine and kidney of one cat that died after eating contaminated wet food. Other reports released indicated that melamine-contaminated wheat gluten was also shipped to an unnamed company that manufactures dry pet food. The FDA is attempting to determine if that product, imported from China, has yet been used in the manufacturing of any dry foods.
Animal rights advocates are now up in arms, calling for an expanded nationwide recall of dog and cat food to include dry varieties as well as wet. Norfolk, Virginia-based PETA urges the FDA to recall any food – – wet or dry – – which has received a customer complaint tied to a sick pet suffering from the same symptoms as the animals that have already died. They also want autopsy reports on any animal believed to have died as a result of the recent poisoning.
FDA representatives admitted that they do not yet know how many of the 8,000 complaints they have received are specifically related to dry pet foot versus wet. Menu Foods has yet to return calls to PETA requesting the same kind of information regarding complaints received by that company and any ties to dry pet food.
The Veterinary Information Network claims that at least 471 cases of pet kidney failure have been reported since the recall, and more than 100 pets have died. However, it is anticipated that realistically pet deaths may well number in the hundreds by the time all reports are reviewed and tabulated from veterinarians across the country.
Both PETA and individual pet owners are calling for a definitive answer regarding these animal deaths as soon as possible. Most are also demanding prosecution if the probe turns up any indication of purposeful wrong doing.