Pet Food Recall Widens Again on New Threat

THURSDAY, May 3 (HealthDay News) -- Two months after it triggered the largest pet food recall in U.S. history, a key Canadian manufacturer has widened its recall once more on the threat of cross-contamination in some products.

The latest action comes amid reports from U.S. health officials that more than 4,000 dogs and cats may have died from eating contaminated pet food. On Thursday, however, health officials said the investigation was winding down and the contamination posed little health risks to humans.

U.S. regulators also reported that the Chinese company accused of exporting wheat gluten that included the toxic chemical melamine had intentionally labeled its shipments as nonfood to avoid inspections.

The newest recall, which covers products in the United States, Canada and Europe, involves any pet food processed at any Menu Food plant during the period in which contaminated wheat gluten was in that plant, according to the recall notice issued late Wednesday. The original recall by the company involved more than 60 million cans and pouches of moist dog and cat food. The new recall, the Streetsville, Ontario company said, includes cuts and gravy and select other products.

The company, which produces pet foods for more than 100 name brands, said the additional recall represents less than 5 per cent of the products that have already been recalled or withdrawn. It did not say what the cross-contamination involved. An updated list of all recalled products is available at the company's website at http://www.menufoods.com.

The news followed reports earlier this week that contaminated pet food leftovers had been fed to hogs and chickens, many of which have been processed for human consumption.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials continue to downplay any potential human health risk.

At a Thursday afternoon press conference, Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection, said, "At Menu Foods, some of the contaminated product was cross-contaminated with other product, that is the reason for the extended recall.

"We believe the likelihood of a human illness from melamine is unlikely," Acheson said. "Only 5 to 8 percent of the wheat gluten is melamine. It is only a small percentage of the ingredients in the pet food. When it gets down to the poultry and pork it is even a smaller percentage of melamine.

"We are preventing any further contaminated protein supplements coming in from China," he added. "I am confident that the investigation into contaminated pet food has been exhausted. We have chased the contaminated wheat gluten and we are confident that it has not entered human food except through the pet food fed to animals."

But the FDA, which has only ever confirmed the deaths of 16 pets from contaminated food since the recall began March 16, now says that pet owners have reported the deaths of about 1,950 cats and 2,200 dogs. It was not known how many of those were linked to the recalled pet food, the AP reported.

The New York Times reported that FDA officials also say the Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Company shipped more than 700 tons of wheat gluten labeled as nonfood products this year through a third-party Chinese textile company.

By listing the goods as nonfood items, the company's shipments were not subject to mandatory inspection by the Chinese government, the newspaper reported.

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