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Pet Food Recall Articles

Recall shows pet food equality

Luxury, low-end brands can share basic ingredients

By Christopher Leonard

The Associated Press


When dog lover Carol Will heard that tainted wheat gluten had spurred a pet food recall, she wasn't surprised to find out the commodity ingredient was used in a lot of generic brands like Hy-Vee and Price Chopper.

But Nutro Natural Choice? That's top-shelf stuff.

"That made me sit up and say: 'Wait a second, I need to look into this further,'" Will recalled.

Will has more than her own pets to worry about. She makes a living selling high-end dog food - along with doggy dresses and raincoats - at her store, Lola & Penelope's Premier Pet Boutique and Wellness Center.

Will stakes her business on assuring customers the food they buy is healthy. That's why they spend $58 for a 20-pound bag of dog food made with free-range chicken.

That Will was worried she might be hit by the recall highlights a question that pet owners around the country are facing: Are luxury pet food brands that different from the cheaper stuff?

"The foods are basically the same up to a point," said David Kirkpatrick, spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Pet food companies distinguish the more expensive brands by blending in higher-quality ingredients like canola oil, lamb meat or vitamin supplements. But a few building block ingredients are common to almost any pet food brand on sale in a typical grocery store aisle, Kirkpatrick said.

Commodity products like corn gluten, wheat gluten and meat meal form the nutritional backbone of many pet foods, said Robert Backus, assistant professor of small animal nutrition at the University of Missouri.

"You'll find those in many of the dry types of pet food and canned foods," Backus said.

That's why 95 brands of pet food were caught up in the recent recall, when just one manufacturer was found to have tainted ingredients. The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets said Friday that rat poison was found in products made by Menu Foods Inc.

Inspectors thought wheat gluten found in the products was linked to the deaths of at least 16 cats and dogs nationwide. The tainted ingredient led to the recall of 60 million cans and pouches of Menu Foods pet foods nationwide.

The recall caught many consumers off guard.

Julie Benesh said she was surprised to find cans of Iams cat food in her pantry that had serial numbers showing they were part of the recall. She thought she was feeding her three cats food that was made with higher-end ingredients than generic brands.

"When I stopped about three years ago giving them supermarket brands, I thought I was really upgrading," Benesh said.

Backus said consumers can check the ingredient labels on their pet food to see what it's made of. But even that can be tricky. Cheaper brands might be made of "meat meal" while higher-end brands have ingredients listed simply as beef or chicken.

Consumers who want to dig deep can compare ingredients with a more extensive list kept by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, Backus said. The group defines how ingredients are listed.

Meat meal, for example, can contain any kind of animal tissue, but no hoofs or hair. "Poultry byproduct meal" can have chicken feet and other meat, but no feathers, Backus said.

St. Louis-based Nestle Purina PetCare Co. declined to say just how it adds value to these basic products to make a spectrum of pet foods. The company recalled Mighty Dog brand pouch products that were produced by Menu Foods between Dec. 3 and March 14.

While customers might not know the exact blend of their pet food, manufacturers must list food ingredients ranked by their prevalence, with majority ingredients listed first.

Will said she tells her customers to stick to products that have simple ingredients listed first, like turkey or rice. She said none of the boutique brands she carries were affected by the recall.

If customers don't want to pay top dollar - or spend time researching every ingredient in the food - they can ask their veterinarian what pet food is best, Kirkpatrick said.

Benesh, for one, said she wouldn't mind spending a little more to ensure her cats' food isn't made with run-of-the-mill ingredients.

"That way what I'm getting is quality," she said.

On the Net

Association of American Feed Control Officials |

American Veterinary Medical Association |


'Limited Resources'

A tainted food scare linked to the deaths of at least 16 animals raises questions about the regulation of pet foods.


By Matthew Philips


Updated: 8:09 p.m. ET March 21, 2007

March 21, 2007 - It's been nearly a week since Canadian pet-food manufacturer Menu Foods Inc. recalled some 60 million cans and pouches of wet food linked to the deaths of at least 15 cats and one dog, yet authorities still can't explain exactly what went wrong. Some critics and animal lovers are honing in on what they see as lax regulation of the $15 billion pet-food industry in the United States.

"There's almost a void there," says Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association. "There is no real pet-food department of any federal agency."

Technically, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for ensuring that pet foods, like human foods, are safe to eat, truthfully labeled and produced under sanitary conditions. But on Tuesday, FDA officials admitted that the regulation of pet food takes a back seat to its regulatory obligations of other food and drug sectors, and that inspections of pet-food processing plants are done only on a for-cause basis.

"There are limited resources," said David Elder, director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance in the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine in Rockville, Md. Elder added that inspections of companion animals' food products are "based on risk." Which means that the processing plant in Emporia, Kans., where the tainted food was manufactured, had never been inspected by government officials until after consumers started complaining about pets dying of kidney failure. The Emporia plant remains open and continues to produce new food, according to a Menu Foods spokesperson, who adds that safety tests are being done around the clock.

The FDA says Ontario-based Menu Foods began to receive complaints about renal failure on Feb. 20 and began on Feb. 27 to conduct a series of taste tests on 40 to 50 dogs and cats, leading to the eventual death of at least nine cats. On March 16, the company issued its North American recall of pet food sold under 95 different brand names manufactured between Dec. 3 and March 6, including popular brands such as Iams and Eukanuba, plus many store brands sold at large retailers such as Wal-Mart, Winn-Dixie and Publix.

The chief executive of Menu Foods told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the company is looking at one unnamed ingredient as the possible cause of the renal failure. The FDA has previously said the investigation is focusing on possibly contaminated wheat gluten, a common ingredient in pet foods. FDA inspectors have been sent to Menu Foods plants in Kansas and New Jersey.

But without regular inspections, the pet-food industry is largely self-regulated. In the United States, the Association of American Feed Control Officials sets guidelines and definitions for pet foods, and there are other government standards and regulations that companies are expected to heed through their own quality-assurance programs.

"It's wide open. As far as ingredients go, there is no regulation," says Ann Martin, a Canadian pet-health advocate and author of three pet-food-related books, including 1997's "Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food." While the raw materials used in commercial pet food often contain animal protein derived largely from slaughterhouse offal—unused animal parts—Martin contends that there are other sources of that material, including road kill, zoo animal carcasses and fecal matter.

The industry insists their products are absolutely safe. "Pet foods are the highest regulated product you'll find in the grocery store," says Duane Ekedahl, president of the Pet Food Institute (PFI), an industry trade association representing the interests of 20 member companies whose products make up about 97 percent of the dog and cat food produced in the United States. While serious, the Menu Foods recall shouldn't be blown out of proportion, says Ekedahl, who points out that the recalled food accounts for less then 2 percent of the overall market. He adds that every pet-food company conducts extensive tests, both of incoming raw materials and of finished products. On Tuesday, PFI issued a statement claiming that "All cat and dog food products on store shelves are safe. The recall is now complete and all suspected products have been removed from the stream of commerce."

That's little comfort to the small number of families that have lost their pets. On Tuesday, two lawsuits were filed in relation to the allegedly tainted food. One, filed by a Chicago woman, alleges that Menu Foods delayed announcing its recall despite knowing its products were contaminated and potentially deadly. The number of pet deaths may grow as veterinarians around the country are now combing through their records of recent deaths involving acute kidney failure. Animal hospitals report hundreds of phone calls from distraught pet owners who lost animals to renal disease in the weeks and months before the food recall.

While chronic kidney failure is "fairly common" in older dogs and cats, acute kidney failure is not. "We really don't see it very often. It's not common at all," says Dr. Sandy Willis, a board-certified internist with the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. As far as the likelihood of a batch of fungus-tainted wheat gluten causing such severe kidney failure, Willis says she is "somewhat puzzled by that. It doesn't seem to be a fungus." The FDA is also looking into whether heavy metals or mold could be the culprit. Until investigators are able to solve the mystery, the simple daily act of feeding pets is likely to be a fraught exercise for many cat and dog owners.

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