Many Animals Sickened by Food Recovering, Unusual in Kidney Damage
Roebuck, Karen, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Most cats and dogs sickened by a rash of tainted pet food are recovering, although investigators still do not know what made them sick, a lead researcher said Friday.
"The majority of cases appear to be getting better. This could have been a whole lot worse," said Dr. Richard Goldstein, associate professor of medicine at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine and a kidney specialist who is researching the outbreak's health impact on pets. "That is the only good news that is coming out of this."
Still, the full extent of the outbreak is unknown.
On March 16, Ontario, Canada-based Menu Foods recalled 60 million cans and pouches of "cuts and gravy" style cat and dog food it produced under 95 brand names after consumers complained, and seven animals died in the company's own tests.
Yesterday, Hills Pet Nutrition Inc. recalled one type of dry cat food -- Prescription Diet m/d Feline dry food in 4- and 10-pound bags -- saying a potentially contaminated ingredient used by Menu Foods was used in that product.
More than 300,000 pet owners have called Menu Foods' hot line seeking information or reporting their pets' illnesses and deaths, said Paul Henderson, the company's top executive. He did not know the number of deaths or illnesses reported to the company.
Henderson promised the company would compensate pet owners whose cats and dogs suffered or died as a result of eating the pet food, if the link is proven. All food the company has manufactured since March 6, when it changed wheat gluten suppliers, is safe, he said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received more than 8,800 complaints, but officials there said they could not confirm the number of deaths.
The FDA announced yesterday that melamine, a chemical commonly used in plastics and household textiles, was found in the recalled pet food, in one of its main ingredients -- wheat gluten -- and in the blood, urine and kidney tissues of animals sickened by the food.
Still, neither the FDA nor independent scientists could say how - - or even if -- the melamine caused the kidney failure and related illnesses in animals who ate the tainted food.
The tainted wheat gluten was traced to China and, as a result, the FDA is inspecting all of that product from China at all U.S. ports, said FDA officials, including Stephen Sundlof, director of the agency's Center for Veterinary Medicine.
"I share my sympathy to the death and sickness of the pets, and the Chinese Embassy is working closely with the FDA officers to determine the real cause," said Chu Maoming, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington. He declined further comment, as did the Chicago-based United States of America-China Chamber of Commerce.
Although nothing indicates melamine-contaminated wheat gluten made it into the human food supply, Sundlof said the FDA cannot be sure until it completes its investigation and traces where the contaminated wheat gluten was shipped.
"FDA is currently working on a health hazard evaluation for human exposure to melamine. Although not completed, melamine toxicity is considered low for mammals, and based on what we know about the contamination levels found in the gluten, it is unlikely there is any health concern based on the presence of melamine," an FDA spokesman said. …