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Pet Death Toll Rises in Tainted Food Recall

Canadian manufacturer can't find contamination source in its moist pet food packages; U.S. probe continues

WEDNESDAY, March 21, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- The Canadian manufacturer of the pet food involved in a massive recall said Wednesday that it could find no causative agent for the animal illnesses and deaths that have occurred.

The pet food shows no signs of contamination, according to Menu Foods president Paul Henderson, whose Ontario-based company initiated the recall of 60 million pouches and cans of brand-name moist dog and cat food over the weekend.

The recall followed reports of kidney failure and death among dogs and cats, including nine deaths in cats being used in Menu Foods' own quarterly taste test.

"It is extremely disheartening," Henderson said in an interview with the Associated Press at the company's headquarters in Streetsville.

Henderson said tests performed on 10 cats that died showed only that the animals died of acute kidney failure.

The pet death toll as of Tuesday stood at 14 dogs and cats, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But the FDA's lead veterinarian, speaking at a Tuesday teleconference, said that the toll was expected to rise.

Henderson said the company was looking at a single ingredient, which he would not identify, the AP reported.

But FDA officials on Tuesday said part of their investigation was focusing on wheat gluten, a source of protein that was used to thicken the gravy in the pet food.

"Our hypothesis is that it is that ingredient that, in fact, represents the highest probability as to the cause," Henderson told the AP. "But we have been unable to prove that through scientific information."

"We are reviewing the manufacturing process of [the] food," Dr. Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said Tuesday. "We are still looking at the wheat gluten and other ingredients."

Sundlof said the FDA continues to receive a large volume of calls at its consumer complaint lines. The number of calls has not yet been tabulated or evaluated, he said, but "we know that some of them are complaints of deaths."

All those that died developed kidney failure after eating the affected product, the FDA said.

Menu Foods announced the recall for packages of moist pet food made at a plant in Emporia, Kan., and another in New Jersey between Dec. 3, 2006, and March 6, 2007.

Henderson told the AP that the company actually delayed the recall announcement until it could confirm that animals had eaten its product before dying. Two earlier complaints from consumers whose cats had died involved animals that lived outside or had access to a garage, which left open the possibility they had been poisoned by something other than contaminated food, he said.

The pet food was sold in sealed packets in the United States, Canada and Mexico under 50 brand names of dog food and 40 brand names of cat food.

The brands include Iams, Science Diet, America's Choice, Preferred Pets, Eukanuba, and Nutriplan. The stores that sold them include Ahold USA Inc., Kroger Co., Safeway, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., PetSmart Inc. and Pet Valu Inc. A full list can be seen at the Menu Foods Web site at www.menufoods.com/recall.

The FDA is responsible for checking pet food plants, Sundlof said Tuesday. "It is very much the same as how we regulate human food plants," he said. "Inspections are based on how risky we think the plant is based on previous inspection."

David Elder, director of the Office of Enforcement at the FDA's Office of Regulatory Affairs, added, "The first time the FDA had been in the Kansas plant was in follow-up to these consumer complaints. The New Jersey plant was inspected last year under FDA's Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy [mad cow] program."

Dogs or cats that have eaten the suspect food and show signs of kidney failure should be taken to a veterinarian. According to the FDA, kidney failure in animals is characterized by loss of appetite, lethargy and vomiting.

The agency is also requesting that people with sick or deceased pets who believe their pet might have consumed one of the recalled products contact a state complaint coordinator. A list of coordinators can be found at the FDA Web site (http://www.fda.gov/opacom/backgrounders/complain.html).

The FDA and the Humane Society advise consumers who have any of these products to stop feeding them to their pets.

Menu Foods now has two consumer recall hotlines: 1-866-895-2708 and 1-866-463-6738.

"Our hearts go out to all of the pet owners across Canada, the United States and Mexico for any losses they experience and, certainly, for the worry this incident may be causing," Henderson said in his interview with the AP.

More information

For more information on pet food, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

SOURCES: March 20, 2007, teleconference with Stephen F. Sundlof, D.V.M., Ph.D., director, Center for Veterinary Medicine, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; David Elder, director, Office of Enforcement, FDA Office of Regulatory Affairs; Associated Press
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