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Tests of suspect pet food killed 7, government says

WASHINGTON — As many as one in six animals died in tests of suspect dog and cat food by the manufacturer after complaints the products were poisoning pets around the country, the government said Monday.
    A federal investigation is focusing on wheat gluten as the likely source of contamination that sparked a recall last Friday of 60 million cans and pouches of the suspect food, said Stephen F. Sundlof, the Food and Drug Administration’s top veterinarian.
    The ingredient, a protein source, is commonly used as filler.
    Agency investigators are looking at other ingredients as well. The wet-style pet food was made by Menu Foods, an Ontario, Canada-based company.
    Menu Foods told the FDA it received the first complaints of kidney failure and deaths among cats and dogs from pet owners on Feb. 20. It began new tests on Feb. 27.
    During those tests, the company fed its product to 40 to 50 dogs and cats and seven animals — the mix of species was not immediately known — died, Sundlof said. The contamination appeared more deadly to cats than to dogs, he said.
    The recall now covers dog food sold throughout North America under 51 brands and cat food sold under 40 brands, including Iams, Nutro and Eukanuba. The food was sold under both store and major brand labels at Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway and other large retailers.
    The FDA has yet to tally how many reports it has received of cats and dogs suffering kidney failure or death. The company has reported just 10 deaths, of nine cats and a single dog.
    ‘‘We are still trying to find out what the true picture is out there of animals. We’re talking about 1 percent of the pet food (supply) and it’s really just impossible to extrapolate at this point,’’ Sundlof said.
    Menu Foods spokeswoman Sarah Tuite told Associated Press Radio the company was ‘‘still trying to figure out the cause.’’
    ‘‘We’re testing and testing, but we can’t identify the problem in the product,’’ Tuite said.
    Other companies — Nestle Purina PetCare Co., Procter & Gamble and Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc. — said that as a precaution they were voluntarily recalling some products made by Menu Foods.
    A complete list of the recalled products along with product codes, descriptions and production dates was available from the Menu Foods Web site, http://www.menufoods.com/recall . The company also designated two phone numbers that pet owners could call for information — (866) 463-6738 and (866) 895-2708. The lines have been swamped by callers.
    Tuite said the company has added more people and lines to cope with the calls. Callers who get a recording saying the line is out of order should try again, she added.
    The company became aware of a potential problem after it received an undisclosed number of owner complaints that dogs and cats were vomiting and suffering kidney failure after eating its products.
    Tuite told AP earlier the recalled products were made using wheat gluten purchased from a new supplier, which has since been dropped.
    The FDA hasn’t confirmed the identity of that company, but its Web site suggests it supplies only animal feed manufacturers, Sundlof said.
    Wheat gluten itself wouldn’t cause kidney failure, leading FDA investigators to suspect contamination by other substances, including heavy metals like cadmium and lead or fungal toxins. Aflatoxin, a corn fungus, sparked a 2005 dog food recall.
    The new recall covers the company’s ‘‘cuts and gravy’’ style food, which consists of chunks of meat in gravy, sold in cans and small foil pouches from Dec. 3 to March 6.
    The company said it makes pet food for 17 of the top 20 North American retailers. It is also a contract manufacturer for the top branded pet food companies.
    ———
   On the Net:
    FDA pet food recall information: http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/petfood.html

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