A chemical blamed for the illnesses and deaths of scores of pets across the nation has been found in hogs at a farm in western North Carolina, state officials said.
Meanwhile, Drs. Foster & Smith recalled dry cat and dog food and consumer groups planned a series of marches and postcard campaigns to press for more government action.
Officials also discovered the chemical, melamine, in feed samples collected on the farm and tested by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Tests revealed the presence of melamine in the urine of all the hogs that consumed the tainted feed.
None of the hogs, however, entered the food supply, said Mary Ann McBride, assistant state veterinarian for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.
"We want to make sure people understand that all the N.C. animals that may have come in contact with this feed are accounted for and none have entered the food supply," she said. "Based on what we know now, we have no reason to believe that there is any risk associated with the N.C. pork supply at this time."
The farm has 1,400 hogs and is now under quarantine. "All animals are healthy, but we are taking this action out of extreme caution," McBride said.
State officials took urine samples from 13 hogs and all tested positive for melamine, a chemical used to manufacture plastics and fertilizer.
The Food and Drug Administration notified North Carolina last week that it was one of six states to receive shipments of potentially contaminated pet food. That pet food--sold to the farm for pig feed--came from a Diamond Pet plant in Gaston, S.C., and contained melamine-laced rice protein concentrate recalled last week by its importer in California.
Pet food with cosmetic blemishes is often sold to farms as a protein source to be custom-blended into a balanced hog feed, officials say.
The North Carolina pig farm is the only one in that state to receive the tainted feed, officials said. McBride said state officials are now waiting to hear if federal officials will consider the pork contaminated.
"We're kind of in a holding pattern until we hear from our federal partners about what should happen with these hogs," she said.
Meanwhile, investigators are analyzing farms in South Carolina, California, New York, Utah and maybe Ohio, to see if hogs in those states consumed melamine-tainted feed.
Earlier tests have confirmed the presence of melamine in at least two imported Chinese vegetable proteins used to make pet foodswheat gluten and rice protein concentrate.
Pet food companies have recalled more than 100 brands of food--made with these melamine-laced ingredients--since the first reports of animal deaths and illnesses surfaced last month.
Latest Pet Food Recalls
Drs. Foster & Smith has recalled its Adult Lite Dry Dog Food and its Adult Dry Cat food. Other pet foods made with rice protein have tested positive for melamine, a chemical commonly used in plastics and fertilizers.
Drs. Foster & Smith, however, said preliminary tests of its food have found no traces of melamine.
The company said it received the rice protein from importer Wilbur-Ellis. Earlier this month, Wilbur-Ellis recalled all its rice protein after the FDA detected melamine in the product.
Wilbur-Ellis said it shipped the tainted rice protein to five pet food manufacturers located in Utah, New York, Kansas and Missouri. The company didn't disclose the names of those manufacturers, but Drs. Foster & Smith is the fifth pet food maker to recall its product made with the suspect rice protein.
The four other pet food companies are Natural Balance, The Blue Buffalo Company, Royal Canin USA, and SmartPak.
Drs. Foster & Smith said it's reformulating the products to eliminate the rice protein. The new formula should be available in Mid-March, the company said on its Web site. None of the company's other products are included in the recall.
Customers with questions about the recalled foods can call the company at 1-800-239-7121.
Pet owner Terri B. of Virginia says it's about time Drs. Foster & Smith recalled its products.
She contacted the company with concerns about the safety of its foods more than a week ago -- after reports first surfaced that rice gluten used in pet foods contained melamine.
"Only after several e-mails and many questions from me did they finally tell me via e-mail to stop feeding my pets this food," the Chilhowie, Virginia, woman told ConsumerAffairs.com on Tuesday.
"My dog's had $500 (worth of) tests, but the results are not back yet. Needless to say I am worried sick.
"This is unacceptable. The public has a right to know that a company's food contain harmful ingredients."
Since Mid-March, pet food makers have recalled 100 brands of dog and cat food made with melamine-laced wheat gluten or rice protein imported from China.
The FDA has confirmed 16 animals have died after eating the tainted pet food, but it expects that number to be much higher.
The Web site Petconnection.com says it's received 4,474 reports of deceased pets in the wake of the recall. Of that number, 2,288 are cats and 2,186 are dogs. The total number of affected pets, the site says, is 13,801. These are not official numbers; they're self-reported figures.
"But if even a fraction could be confirmed, they show deaths far exceeding the FDA's count of 16 pets, most of whom died in a manufacturers feeding trial," the site states.
Petconnection.com says other sources also support higher numbers of deaths and illnesses linked to the contaminated pet food, including:
• The Oregon State Public Heath Veterinarian -- 45 dead;
• The Michigan State Veterinary Association -- 52 dead;
• The Veterinary Information Network (VIN)--It estimates 2,000 to 7,000 pets may die based on its survey of VIN member veterinarians. The network also estimates the cost of veterinary care for these animals will be $2 to $20 million.
My Pet Counts! Postcard Blitz
Meanwhile, pet owners who've lost a dog or cat because of the contaminated foods are encouraged to voice their concerns in the nationwide "My Pet Counts! Postcard Blitz."
Pet owners are asked to make a post card with a picture of their deceased dog or cat -- and a brief message about their loss -- and mail it this Saturday (April 28) to the following governmental and media representatives:
Marcia K. Larkins, D.V.M
FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine
7519 Standish Place HFV-7
Rockville, MD 20855
Senator Richard Durbin
309 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Your state's U.S. Senators (http://www.senate.gov)
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Organizers say they want the event to "demonstrate the full scope of this pet food recall disaster.
"The FDA continues to publicize only '16 confirmed deaths,'" organizers say. "Reliable sources report that the number of pet deaths are and will be much higher -- most likely in the thousands. By sticking to the 'only 16 confirmed deaths' wording, this disaster is being grossly minimized. The word must get out."
The postcard blitz coincides with Saturday's national march by the group Pets Need A Voice Too.
Founder Jen Hoeflein of Bastrop, Texas, organized Saturday's "Keep Our Pets Safe" march to memorialize pets that have died in the wake of the recall and draw attention to what she calls "an outrageous situation."
"The march is a direct response from people all over the country and Canada who felt an overwhelming need to speak in outrage over the lack of safety standards in regard to pet food and the corporate negligence in allowing the food to remain on the shelves prior to the recall," Hoeflein told ConsumerAffairs.com.
The march is planned for 10 a.m. this Saturday in several cities across the country, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas and San Diego.
Hoeflein founded the group after losing her three-year-old cat, Timber last November to liver failure.
"He was consuming Hill Country Fare's canned cat food on a regular basis. He rapidly became ill and in horror, our family watched him slip into a near-death stage. As soon as the vet's office opened the next morning, he was put to sleep to end his suffering.
"It's a complete outrage that Timber's suffering was mirrored all over the country, different animals, different families with the outcome the same," she says. "And still, the tainted food sat on the store shelves. In fact, some of it is still there. That's simply appalling."
Hoeflein says her organization represents average citizens affected by the pet food debacle.
"I think Americans have forgotten how powerful their individual voices are when it comes to protecting their families and in many American households, pets are considered members of their families," she says. "This event has created a passion-driven response, an outcry for accountability, and the demand for the meeting of product quality standards."
Saturday's march is the first step in what Hoeflein hopes will become a campaign to ensure the protection of pets. She says this network of committed pet owners plan to keep pressure on lawmakers and government agencies to make sure tainted ingredients never again make their way into the food supply.
"We want people to understand we are simply giving a voice to sadness and pain, to frustration and outrage," Hoeflein says. "People need that and our pets deserve that. Hopefully, that voice will result in better days for pets and owners alike."
Thousands of hogs in the United States -- in at least six states -- may have eaten livestock feed contaminated with the chemical melamine, the Food and Drug Administration said.
And health officials are now investigating the possibility that humans may have consumed food containing the chemical that triggered a nationwide recall of pet food.
California officials confirmed hogs at a farm in that state ate the contaminated food -- described as salvaged pet food or pet food scraps. Officials were also trying to determine if hogs in five other states -- New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Ohio -- ate the tainted food.
The FDA has confirmed the urine of some hogs in California, North Carolina and South Carolina tested positive for melamine.
When asked if any of the hogs had entered the human food supply, FDA's Chief veterinarian Stephen Sundlof said: "At this point, I don't have a definitive answer other than to say that the issue is being addressed."
FDA officials are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several states to investigate the now-quarantined farms and determine if those hogs were slaughtered for human food.
"I don't have the numbers on that right now, but it potentially affects thousands of hogs," Sundlof said. "Some of the hog operations were fairly sizable."
USDA spokesman Steve Cohen, however, said the tainted feed was sold to smaller and independent hog farms.
Poultry Also Suspect
The FDA also said a poultry farm in Missouri may have received the melamine-tainted feed. Tests have confirmed the wheat gluten and rice protein used to make pet food in the United States -- and blamed for the deaths and kidney problems in scores pets across the country -- was tainted with melamine. Officials in South Africa also discovered the chemical in the corn gluten used to make pet food in that country.
Melamine is commonly used in plastics and fertilizers, but is not approved for pet food. The World Health Organization does not classify melamine as a carcinogen for people, but says there's little research about the chemical's effect on humans.
Also on Tuesday, the FDA said it discovered a second, related chemical called cyanuric acid -- used in swimming pool chlorination -- contaminated rice protein samples.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that researchers identified three other contaminants in the urine and kidneys of animals sickened or killed after eating the recalled pet foods. The paper identified those contaminants as cyanuric acid, amilorine, and amiloride -- all byproducts of melamine.
One researcher told The Tribune-Review that cyanuric acid is what most likely made the pets sick.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site described the long term or repeated exposure to cyanuric acid as: "When ingested in large amounts the substance may have effects on the kidneys, resulting in tissue lesions."
In related news ...
• The FDA said it would inspect six grain products imported from China and used to make everything from bread to baby formula for traces of melamine. Those grain products include wheat gluten, corn gluten, corn meal, soy protein, rice bran, and rice protein. "We're going to target firms that we know are receiving imported products," David Acheson, chief medical officer of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told reporters on Tuesday. "The goal is obviously to sample as much as we can."
• The FDA said it's now sampling all wheat gluten, rice protein, and corn gluten coming into the United States from China for melamine;
• Another pet food company -- SmartPak -- has recalled products made with tainted rice protein. The company recalled a single production run of its LiveSmart Weight Management Chicken and Brown Rice Dog Food;
• The California Agriculture Department is trying to contact 50 people who bought pork that may have come from pigs who ate feed containing melamine. State officials recommended consumers not eat the meat, but said the health risks are minimal;
• The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI) called for the U.S. to ban the imports of wheat gluten, rice protein, and other grain products from China until the FDA can certify the products are safe. The CSPI also recommended the FDA should evaluate whether a ban is needed for other foods or ingredients coming from China -- the source of the contaminated gluten linked to the largest-ever recall of pet food.
No Ban Planned
The FDA says it has no plans to ban the imports of wheat gluten, rice protein, or similar products from China.
"We believe the safety net is in place to make sure that no additional products are going to get into the commerce of the United States," David Elder, director of FDA's enforcement office, told reporters.
Several pet food companies -- including Menu Foods, Procter & Gamble, and Nestle SA -- have recalled more than 100 brands of pet food made with melamine-tainted wheat gluten since Mid-March.
And at least five companies have made pet food containing rice protein contaminated with melamine.
FDA officials say the chemical may have intentionally been added to increase the protein content.
The FDA says there were no direct shipments of those two ingredients to firms that make food for humans or for animals used as food.
Release the Names
Release the names of companies that received contaminated rice protein from China and identify and inspect all suspect pet food ingredients imported from all countries.
That's the message two U.S. Senators sent to the Food and Drug Administration on Monday.
The request by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Marie Cantwell, (D-WA) follows reports that rice protein and corn gluten tainted with the chemical melamine have been used in pet food and may have entered the human food chain.
Earlier reports identified the contaminated ingredient used in more than 100 brands of recalled pet food -- and linked to scores of illnesses and deaths in dogs and cats across the country -- as melamine-tainted wheat gluten.
A House committee heard testimony Tuesday that American food is at high risk for both natural and terrorist-related outbreaks and many in Congress are questioning whether the Food and Drug Administration can adequately protect Americans.
"Over the past week, shipments of imported rice protein and corn gluten have been discovered to be contaminated with melamine," the Senators wrote in their letter to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach. "In addition, we have learned that the human food supply may be at risk from tainted pet food sold to a hog feeding operation in California.
"Once again, our food supply has been put at risk by contaminated ingredients that originated overseas and were never inspected by the FDA."
Earlier this month, the Chinese company, Binzhou-Futian, sold rice protein to U.S. importer Wilbur-Ellis and a second, unknown, company. Wilbur-Ellis said it distributed that rice protein to five pet food manufacturers.
Three of those manufacturers have recalled their pet foods; the names of the other two companies, however, are not known.
The Senators say that's not acceptable.
"Given the strong possibility that these two pet food manufacturers also received contaminated rice protein and that they have failed to implement voluntary recalls, we believe the FDA should release the names of these manufacturers and require them to trace and recall any pet food made with the potentially contaminated rice protein," they told the FDA's Commissioner.
The Senators also asked the FDA to:
• Immediately start testing samples of rice protein and corn gluten imported from China. The FDA is already testing wheat gluten imported from that country;
• Identify and inspect all suspect pet food ingredients imported from China and other countries. "In light of the strong possibility that these protein sources were purposefully contaminated for economic purposes, we are concerned about the safety of other imported pet food ingredients and the possibility of them being contaminated," the Senators said.
• Study the feasibility of testing protein-based pet food ingredients imported from China and other countries for melamine;
• Work with the Chinese Government and other foreign governments to inspect their facilities and provide technical assistance to improve their food safety standards.
"The FDA owes the American public their best effort to prevent contaminated food from getting to store shelves and to remove contaminated food that is already on shelves before more pets die," the Senators wrote, adding 63 percent of Americans own a cat or dog.
Pet Owners Snarl
A pet owner in Florida told ConsumerAffairs.com that she's outraged by the FDA's refusal to disclose all the companies that received the contaminated rice protein.
"Family pets are being killed and the FDA is dragging its feet," said Marlene B. of Port Charlotte, Florida. "I want to know how the hell the FDA can refuse to name the other two pet food manufacturers that received contaminated goods from China.
"If it were a medicine for human consumption, they'd be the first to scream 'danger' and yank the products off the shelves, before any conclusive tests had been done. This is outrageous."
And it's happening at a time when pets across the country continue to develop kidney disease or die after eating the melamine-tainted food.
Consider the impact one brand of the recalled pet food had on the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels at a kennel in Texas.
"Our kennel has been destroyed by Natural Balance Dog Food," Dave and Jennifer S. of Victoria, Texas, said referring to the pet food recalled last week. "We are left devastated and desperately in need of help."
Several or their dogs went into renal failure -- and two died -- after eating Natural Balance's Venison and Brown Rice food.
"We had a total of 12 Cavaliers, two have died, four puppies remain in the hospital, as well as three adults," said the couple, who took their dogs to Texas A & M University's Small Animal Emergency Clinic for treatment.
"The three adults may not recover at all. It is still hopeful for the puppies. We have one adult Cavalier at home, one six-month-old puppy at home, and one puppy that is eight weeks old that has been able to come home. They still require follow-up testing to ensure that they are not going back into renal failure."
The couple added: "The doctors met with us and confirmed that it was the Natural Balance Venison and Brown Rice Dog food that is the cause (of their dogs' sickness and deaths.) The autopsy on Abby (one of the dogs) confirmed the crystal formation that is seen in all the renal failure cases concerning the recent dog food recalls."
Natural Balance, they say, may compensate them for our vet bills.
But only if they sign a release "which basically makes it so they do not have to pay anything except the vet bill."
More about the Pet Food Recall ...
Melamine Found in North Carolina Hogs...