Tainted Pet Food Recall

Filed Under: Dogs, Cats, Poisoning

On 17 March 2007, Menu Foods recalled 90 brands of dog and cat foods after 16 pet deaths were reported and countless animals became sick. The international recall covered 60 million packages of "cuts and gravy" pet food sold in cans and pouches.

The Food and Drug Adminstration's official count of cats and dogs that have become fatally ill from eating the contaminated food stands at 16. It is unclear how many deaths will eventually be linked to the recalled food, but is it expected more will be announced.

Menu Foods food advised retailers to remove all brands from store shelves to verify their packaging dates. The recall covers cans and pouches of food packaged from 3 December 2006 through 6 March 2007.

Days before the recall was announced, Menu Foods contracted toxicologists at the Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell University to discover what was causing kidney failure in dogs and cats taking part in a taste study using the recalled food. When Cornell failed to find a cause, the New York State Food Laboratory was contacted, which identified the poison Thursday night.

Substantial levels of aminopterin, a drug that has been used in cancer treatments and was once used to induce abortions, were found in a cat food sample. The drug is commonly used outside the United States as a rat poison.

Aminopterin, severely toxic in high doses, inhibits the growth of malignant cells and suppresses the immune system. In dogs and cats, the amount of aminopterin found—40 parts per million—can cause kidney failure.

The federal government prohibits the use of aminopterin as rat poison in the U.S., but it is still used against rats in some countries. State officials did not speculate on how the poison contaminated the pet food, but said no criminal investigations had been launched.

Aminopterin is no longer marketed as a cancer drug, but is still used in research.

The Food and Drug Administration has said the investigation into the pet deaths was focused on wheat gluten in the food. Gluten is commonly used as a protein supplement in pet foods. Wheat gluten itself would not cause kidney failure, but it could have been contaminated.

Paul Henderson, chief executive of Menu Foods, confirmed that the wheat gluten was purchased from China. It would be unusual for the wheat gluten to be tainted, since a wheat crop itself is not typically sprayed with a rodenticide. Bait station are placed around the perimeter of storage facilities as pest prevention.

Menu Foods, based in Ontario, Canada, is taking responsibility for pet medical expenses incurred as a result of the tainted food.

There is no risk to pet owners from handling the food. The company, already facing lawsuits, is testing all the ingredients currently used in pet food production.

A complete list of the recalled products—with product codes, descriptions and production dates—posted by Menu Foods is available at http://menufoods.com/recall. The company also gave two phone numbers that pet owners could call for information: (866) 463-6738 and (866) 895-2708.

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