Mar. 23 -- FRIDAY, March 23 (HealthDay News) -- Rat poison has been found in samples of the recalled pet food linked to at least 16 animal deaths nationwide, New York officials said Friday.
The officials said that testing at the New York State Food Laboratory identified the toxic chemical aminopterin in samples from Menu Foods, the Canadian manufacturer of the 60 million cans and pouches of moist dog and cat food that are currently part of a nationwide recall. But it's not clear how the toxin got into the food.
Aminopterin is derived from folic acid and in the United States it is approved for use as a cancer drug, not as a rodent poison. But it is used to kill rodents in some other countries. The toxin is known to cause cancer and birth defects in humans and kidney damage in dogs and cats.
ABC News, citing an unidentified source, reported Friday that the poison was on wheat imported from China and used by Menu Foods in almost 100 brands of dog and cat food.
Paul K. Henderson, president and CEO of Menu Foods, said during a teleconference Friday afternoon that "we don't know how the substance got into our products." However, he confirmed that the company imports wheat gluten from China.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials reacted with caution to the news.
"While we are very interested in the discovery of this compound, we want to make sure that all possible causes have been ruled out before confirming any one particular cause," Dr. Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said during a late Friday teleconference.
Sundlof also announced that Menu Foods has now recalled all the brand-name moist dog and cat food on its list, regardless of the date produced, from all retail outlets.
Menu Foods announced the original recall last weekend only for packages of moist pet food made between Dec. 3, 2006, and March 6, 2007.
The widened recall, Sundlof said, was because "the company received information from the FDA that some recalled products remained on some store shelves."
New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker said in a prepared statement: "We are pleased that the expertise of our New York State Food Laboratory was able to contribute to identifying the agent that caused numerous illnesses and deaths in dogs and cats across the nation."
The Food Laboratory received the pet food samples from a toxicologist at the New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell University, where testing has been under way to try to identify the cause of the kidney failure in pets that consumed the recalled brands of food. At Cornell's request, the Food Laboratory tested the samples for poisons and toxins, and identified aminopterin at a level of at least 40 parts per million, the statement said.
As recently as Wednesday, Menu Foods, which is based in Streetsvillle, Ontario, Canada, said it could find no cause in its foods for the animal illnesses and deaths that have occurred. The pet food shows no signs of contamination, Henderson said at the time.
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.
Henderson said tests performed on 10 cats that died showed only that the animals had died of acute kidney failure.
The FDA has said its investigation has focused so far on wheat gluten in the pet food. Wheat gluten would not cause kidney failure, but the common ingredient could have been contaminated, the agency has 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.
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.
For more information on pet food, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
SOURCES: March 23, 2007, teleconference with Stephen F. Sundlof, D.V.M., Ph.D., director, Center for Veterinary Medicine, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; March 23, 2007, teleconference with Paul K. Henderson, president and CEO of Menu Foods, Streetsville, Ontario, Canada; March 23, 2007, New York State Department of Agriculture, press statement