Thursday, April 5, 2007

Unraveling the Pet Food Mystery - TIME steps in

Good to see TIME covering the story.,8599,1607483,00.html

The fear and outrage surrounding the death of beloved Fidos and Fifis around the country from contaminated pet food isn't going away. Another recall was announced on Thursday, as officials added pet treats made by Sunshine Mills, a company based in Red Bay, Alabama, to the list of retracted products, because of the possibility it may have used contaminated wheat gluten. And Menu Foods Ltd. — which announced its first recall of 60 million dog and cat food products packaged under various brand names three weeks ago — extended the recall date to foods made between Nov. 8 and Mar. 6.

Since the scare began, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has confirmed 16 pet deaths, although anecdotal evidence suggests thousands more may have died because of the poisonous food. The FDA points to the inexplicable appearance of melamine, an industrial binding chemical used in plastic furniture, cookware, and in fertilizers overseas, as the likely cause. Lab tests found it in wheat gluten, a gravy thickener used in wet pet food. (Melamine is also used in human food such as baked goods and meat substitutes, but there is no indication the tainted wheat gluten has made it into human food.) "The association between melamine in the kidneys and urine of cats that died and melamine in the food they consumed is undeniable," says the FDA on its website. "Melamine is an ingredient that should not be in pet food at any level."

Still, the FDA says it cannot be sure melamine is the culprit. Here are the chief unanswered questions in the continuing pet-food mystery.

What Caused the Deaths?

Richard Goldstein, associate professor of medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, who is part of a Cornell team investigating the cause of death, says he would not normally expect melamine to kill a pet. Research on melamine's effects on animals is very limited: only a few dated studies have been done on dogs and just one on cats, which showed limited poisonous effects and no kidney damage. And melamine has a very low level of toxicity to rodents. "It looks like it [the melamine] is causing direct cell death in the kidneys and this is not something we would have expected to happen," says Goldstein. "I don't think it's pure melamine. Maybe there is some kind of reaction with the metabolism of melamine that would cause this."

A growing number of complaints about sick and dying animals who ate only dry food, which typically does not contain wheat gluten, is another reason some authorities question whether melamine is the real culprit.

Bruce Friedrich, Vice President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has urged the FDA to test for excessive levels of vitamin D; last year a manufacturing error led to too much of the vitamin in Royal Canin pet food, causing kidney failure and death in several animals. But Goldstein says excessive vitamin D is unlikely, since blood tests would show high calcium levels, which haven't been found. Says an FDA spokesman: "Our analysis of the premix indicates that vitamin levels were appropriate." Other theories floated to explain the bizarre deaths are aminopterin, or rat poison, which would cause the kind of kidney damage seen. An Albany lab found the substance in two pet food samples of canned foods, but the FDA has ruled these out because no other lab has been able to confirm the results.

Are Pet Food Standards Tough Enough?

The FDA, which is in charge of regulating pet food, claims the standards are as stringent as those for human food. But some authorities disagree and the FDA website admits they have limited enforcement resources. "The FDA is an agency under siege with no money and resources," says Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University, who is writing a book on pet food. "They're not going to make pet food the priority when they have so much to do to make human food safe." That's disturbing news to animal lovers, since many furry pals are part of the family. The FDA requires that pet food must be pure, wholesome, sanitary and safe to eat — but the agency has no obligation to approve the food before it goes to market. "The FDA doesn't inspect the plants or the food, but leaves that up to AAFCO [Association of American Feed Control Officials], which is a body that has no regulating power," says Friedrich of PETA. "So it really becomes self-policing."

Critics of the pet food industry point to two factors that may contribute to unsafe food: the centralization of the process for making food and the use of unsanitary material from rendering plants. The recall brought to light that the wheat gluten, which was eventually recalled, came from a single Chinese company but ended up in over 100 brands of pet food. ChemNutra Inc., based in Las Vegas, bought 873 tons of gluten from the Chinese company, farmed it out to three pet food makers and one distributor that services the industry. A highly centralized process may be cheap, but "at that size and scale if something goes wrong it goes wrong big time," says Nestle.

Rendering plants, which boil down dead animal carcasses from slaughterhouses into fats and proteins, sell cheap material that often ends up in pet food. The "meat" in your cat's kibbles could be any kind: there's no law against even using rendered material from cats and dogs in pet food. Plants can mix in anything from road kill to supermarket deli meats, and investigations by KMOV-TV in St. Louis and the Los Angeles Times have suggested that pets killed in animal shelters just might make it into the slop. The Pet Food Institute, whose members create most of the dog and cat food sold in the U.S., told the Times that pets are not allowed in their products. But the FDA has admitted to finding "very, very low levels" of sodium pentobarbital — the chemical used to euthanize animals — in some brands of dog food. Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society of the U.S. said the allegations need more scrutiny. "The pet food industry is not the most transparent of industries and it has been really difficult for the public to obtain information," he says.

What Should You Feed Fido?

Besides staying away from recalled products, pet owners might want to consider using natural food from smaller companies. "I would suggest feeding pets organic instead of commercial dog food from big companies who are focused on filling food at the cheapest price," says Friedrich from PETA. Some pet lovers are bypassing store food altogether, serving up home cooked meals — everything from bone-shaped biscuits to homemade hamburgers. Sales of cookbooks for cats and dogs have increased dramatically, according Nielsen BookScan. But Goldstein of Cornell warns against cooking for your pet. "I would hate for people to stop using commercial pet food, because it's the healthiest diet in the long term for dogs and cats who need multiple vitamins at the proper ratios."

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Current Pet Food Deaths: Over 3,000 deaths and counting

From today on the numbers...

As of 5:12 a.m.. PT: 3,057 pets have been reported as deceased to our PetConnection database. Of these, 1,657 are cats, and 1,400 are dogs.


Every time we see the 12-14-16 “official” number of dead pets the FDA has reported in the media … we wonder what happened to the ability of most in the media to report a story.

The Oregon state health veterinarian reports 35 dead pets, and Oregon has 1.2 percent of the U.S. population.

Now, the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association is reporting 38 dead pets, and Michigan has 3.4 percent of the U.S. population.

The Veterinary Information Network has reported numbers that suggest deaths in the thousands, as the L.A. Times and NBC News have reported.

Even the FDA will no longer speculate on the numbers dead, saying in a media conference last Friday that more than 8,800 reports had been made to the FDA, but ” we have not had the luxury of confirming these reports.”

So … can we get off the 16? Most of those animals died in the feeding trial, by the way.

Tainted wheat gluten found in U.S. food plants

We knew it was just a matter of time... first two paragraphs quoted below...

The tainted wheat gluten that triggered a massive pet food recall also ended up in processing plants that prepare food consumed by people, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

While agency leaders offered assurances Monday that the U.S. food supply remains safe, they said they cannot yet completely rule out contamination of human food by the suspect wheat gluten, which contained melamine, a chemical found in plastics and pesticides.

And here is a great post on the political blog

The Tainted Wheat Coverup at FDA, Guised as a "Pet Food Recall"

Want to know more about wheat gluten?

Monday, April 2, 2007

FDA Hiding Info In Pet Food Epidemic, PETA Says

From the North County Gazette in New York comes this commentary:

The pet food recall has scared the nation.

More than that, it has seriously placed the credibility of not only the pet food companies but that of our own government at issue.

Despite Menu Foods having been responsible for the deaths and sickness of hundreds of pets, they're encouraging the public to keep buying their product because after all, while they recorded nearly a $6 million profit in the last quarter of 2005, for sure their bottom line is going to take a hit in the first quarter of 2006.

Pet food companies like Purina were busy saying buy me, buy me, we're not part of it only a few days later to have Purina tell us that they too were included, recalling one their Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy, a popular dog food. And then followed Del Monte, and Hill's. Who can you trust anymore?

It seems that virtually every day another company joins the recall and the $64,000 question remains, just what company is the one that the FDA says is the one to whom melamine-contaminated wheat gluten had been shipped which manufactures dry pet food. They refuse to name the company and in our view, that's totally irresponsible, to say the least. If the government in the body of the FDA knows a company's products may contain contamination, they have a responsibility to tell the public so that the public stops using that product.

Just what is the priority of the federal government, trying to save the lives of helpless pets or looking out for the bottom line of pet food manufacturers? Never mind, we think we already know the answer.

In this particular problem, it is said that cats are more susceptible because of their size. What if the contamination affected food for human consumption? What if 16 human beings had died? What if the entire human population was at risk because of imported wheat gluten instead of "ONLY" the entire nation's pet population?

Where is the outrage? Is it because people say, so what, it's only an animal? This is a country that condones using animals for laboratory testing. Why is the Congress and the President apathetic towards this issue? What if it's found that this same wheat gluten used in pet foods is being using in foods for human consumption? How do we know it's not. We as a nation should be more concerned about what the government is NOT telling us than what they are.

... Apparently FDA wasn't concerned enough to tell the public who the manufacturer is they have identified whose dry food is contains the contaminated wheat gluten. Hill's, the only manufacturer so far to have called dry cat food, says it's not them.

In this pet food recall, at first we were told it was confined ONLY to 95 brands of wet dog and cat food, that absolutely dry pet food was safe. Wrong, the federal Food and Drug Administration then identified melamine in wheat gluten used in dry cat food produced by Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc. of Topeka, Kan., and on Friday, that food was recalled. Just think how many pets may have been affected.

Worse yet, just think how many pets continue to be affected because their owners have diligently watched the recall list and think they are feeding their pets safe foods only to be informed within days that that food too is being recalled.

How safe are we, how safe are our pets? FDA officials tell us that while wheat gluten is also used in some human foods, they have supposedly found no indication that the contaminated ingredient had been used in foods for human consumption.

To reiterate, the scary part to us isn't what they're telling us, it's what they're not telling us. After all, the government is pretty good at cover-ups, particularly when they are protecting entire industries, in this case, the pet food industry. Dog and cat food sales in the U.S. reached over $14.3 billion in 2005, according to the Pet Food Institute that represents manufacturers of commercial pet foods.

The president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called for the resignation of Andrew von Eschenback, FDA commissioner, after the FDA refused to name the dry pet food maker.

PETA president Ingrid Newkirk says that two independent laboratories are claiming that the FDA was wrong when it determined that the agent causing kidney failure in cats and dogs was wheat gluten contaminated with melamine. FDA has yet to recall the dry food that is reportedly killing dogs and cats. What are they waiting for? To see how high the death toll will rise? Do they feel secure because they think they can't be held liable, that cats and dogs are considered personal property and that there can be no damages awarded by a court for emotional distress, intentional emotional distress caused by our own government?

Although the FDA says that melamine was found in pet food and that it may have been the ingredient making animals sick, PETA points out that at the FDA news conference on March 30, the agency did not report the fact that the New York Department of Agriculture and a top Canadian agricultural laboratory -- Animal Health Laboratory at the University of Guelph - both dispute the FDA's finding.

"A house-cleaning of the FDA is overdue," writes Newkirk. "Cherished animals are dying horrible deaths because of a fat, callous industry, and you have forfeited the public trust by siding with it to the detriment of the public."

PETA has also called for criminal investigations of Iams, Menu Foods and other companies to determine if there were delays that may have caused more suffering and deaths of animals. Menu Foods president Paul Henderson has already confirmed that the company delayed its recall until weeks after the first complaints were made about the pet food, in order to confirm that cats and dogs were dying from eating the pet food and not from other reasons.

PETA has charged that Menu Foods reportedly knew of this potentially deadly food as early as Feb. 20. When reports surfaced that its dog and cat food might have caused severe illness in customers' animal companions, PETA spokesmen say Menu quietly conducted lethal toxicity tests to confirm the contamination. Dogs and cats were allegedly forced to ingest toxic and lethal food in Menu's laboratory before the company announced the recall of pet food from stores nationwide nearly one month after the initial illness were reported. During this critical time, countless animal companions may have been at risk of getting sick, and many may have died, PETA says.

While the finger pointing for the contaminated wheat gluten has been directed at China, on Monday China denied that the pet food ingredients exported to the U.S. are to blame for the pet food recall.

New Home for Pet Food Tracker

I set up a new site and blog just for the Pet Food Tracker, to keep it separate so it's easy to find and reference. I'll be copying over posts and comments as soon as I can!

FDA Import Alert - Tainted Wheat Gluten Sold as "Food Grade"


And now (some of) the press finally starts covering this like a real story. (Thanks Carol!)

Tainted Wheat Gluten Sold as "Food Grade"
by David Goldstein

Del Monte Foods has confirmed that the melamine-tainted wheat gluten used in several of its recalled pet food products was supplied as a "food grade" additive, raising the likelihood that contaminated wheat gluten might have entered the human food supply.

"Yes, it is food grade," Del Monte spokesperson Melissa Murphy-Brown wrote in reply to an e-mail query.
Del Monte issued a voluntary recall Saturday for several products under the Gravy Train, Jerky Treats, Pounce, Ol' Roy, Dollar General and Happy Trails brands.

Wheat gluten is sold in both "food grade" and "feed grade" varieties. Either may be used in pet food, but only "food grade" gluten may be used in the manufacture of products meant for human consumption. Published reports have thus far focused on tainted pet food, but if the gluten in question entered the human food supply through a major food products supplier and processor, it could potentially contaminate thousands of products and hundreds of millions of units nationwide.

Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine said the FDA is not aware of any contaminated gluten that went into human food but said he could not confirm this "with 100 percent certainty." Wheat gluten is a common food additive used as a thickener, dough conditioner, and meat substitute. It is widely used as an additive in commercial bakery items and special purpose flours.

The FDA announced today that it has traced the contaminated wheat gluten to a single processor, Xuzhou Anying Biological Technology of Peixian, China, but has not released the name of the U.S. distributor who supplied the product to Del Monte, Menu Foods, Nestle Purina, and Hills Nutritional. In all, more than 70 brands and over 60 million cans and pouches of dog and cat food are now part of this massive recall, as well as at least one brand of dry cat food.

Public statements have indicated that the contaminated gluten was distributed by a single U.S. company, but since the FDA refuses to name the supplier, it is not yet known if this company also supplies human food manufacturers. It is also not yet known if Xuzhou Anying sells direct to food manufacturers in the U.S. or abroad.

While cats seem particularly susceptible to the effects of melamine poisoning, there is little research on the substance's human toxicity. Unless and until the FDA determines otherwise, one cannot help but wonder if our sick and dying cats are merely the canary in the coal mine alerting us to a broader contamination of the human food supply.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Congress and Senate get involved - and Media Conference today

If the calls and letters to the FDA won't do anything, and calls and letters to the media won't do anything...

lets put all our support behind the people who ARE starting to do something. Time for more calls and letters to Congress and the Senate.

From Gina at this morning:

I’m trying to get confirmation from C-SPAN, CNN and Fox that at least one of them will air Sen. Durbin’s media conference 1:30 p.m. CT today in Springfield. Here’s contact information if you want to urge full coverage:

And speaking of political action (which we have been, click here), reader Mike reminders everyone that:

[…} every Rep will be up for re-election in ‘08, and one-third of the Senators. What’s going into my letters will be some statement to the effect that “I will be supporting a candidate on election day Nov 4 who is working to further this legislation…..”

From Steve posting over on last week:

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) sent a letter to the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration March 23 asking for full details of the investigation into the pet food contamination.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) sent a letter to the president and CEO of Menu Foods Income Fund March 23 asking for detailed information explaining the contamination and subsequent recall of Menu Food’s pet food products.