Pet Food Company Expands Recall

Scientists say they have found rat poison in samples of pet food blamed in the deaths of at least 15 cats and one dog. Producer Menu Foods has broadened a recall to all 95 brands of the "cuts and gravy" style food.

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Scientists say they finally know why some cats and dogs got sick and even died after eating certain kinds of pet food. It was a rat poison inside pet food manufactured by the Canadian-based company Menu Foods. The company has recalled dozens of brands of pet food but it says it doesn't know how the poison got into the food.

NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI: When Menu Foods announced its recall on March 16th, it said they'd had no idea what might be causing so many cats and dogs to get sick. Yesterday, a big part of the mystery may have been solved. Scientists in New York said they found a substance called aminopterin in cat food made by the company. The substance is used as a rat poison in other countries. But Bruce Akey of the State Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell University said it's not widely used in the United States.

Dr. BRUCE AKEY (Animal Health Diagnostic Center, Cornell University): It is a group of compounds that are related to cancer drugs. We do know these things can cause renal failure in humans and animals, these types of drugs.

ZARROLI: The scientists said the aminopterin was found in a relatively high concentration of about 40 parts per million. Menu Foods officials said they were grateful the substance had been identified, but they made clear that a great many questions remained unanswered. The biggest one is how the substance got into the food in the first place. Paul Henderson is president and CEO of Menu Foods.

Mr. PAUL HENDERSON (President and CEO, Menu Foods): At this stage, we don't know. Our immediate next steps will be to begin testing all of the suspect raw materials with the goal of quickly identifying the means through which this substance entered our supply chain.

ZARROLI: The recalled food included dozens of brands sold under such disparate labels as Iams and Neutro, and also store brands such as Safeway and Wal-Mart. No dry food was included in the recall. Instead the tainted food was of the so-called cuts and gravy variety.

One possibility is that the contaminants came from another country. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it's focusing on wheat gluten that was imported from China. Company officials said they don't believe the poisoning was a deliberate act. They say the tainted products came from two separate plants in Kansas and New Jersey, so sabotage would have been complicated to carry out.

The news that the food was tainted with rat poison came as a grim surprise to Sandra Bob(ph). Her two-and-a-half-year-old bullmastiff died this month right after eating food made by Menu Foods.

Ms. SANDRA BOB: I was sick to my stomach. Basically my dog was murdered. I mean, and if you think about it, in this day and time, where is quality control?

ZARROLI: Bob and her husband were among the first pet owners to file lawsuits against Menu Foods this month, but others have followed, including class action suits in the U.S. and Canada. So far the contaminated food has been officially linked to the deaths of only 16 pets, but there's anecdotal evidence of a lot more. Once the company gets to the bottom of what happened, it's still likely to face years of litigation from grieving pet owners.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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