Sunday, April 01, 2007

Pet Food Recall Crisis Deepens

This story just keeps getting worse. More brands and food lines are being recalled for fear that they include contaminants that are injuring and killing pets.

Alpo is the latest brand to be affected. Hill's dry pet food is still the only dry food to be recalled.
Nestle Purina PetCare Co. said it was recalling all sizes and varieties of its Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy wet dog food with specific date codes. Purina said a limited amount of the food contained a contaminated wheat gluten from China.

The same U.S. supplier also provided wheat gluten, a protein source, to a Canadian company, Menu Foods, which this month recalled 60 million containers of wet dog and cat food it produces for sale under nearly 100 brand labels.

Menu Foods and the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the pet food industry, have refused to identify the company that supplied the contaminated wheat gluten.

Hill's Pet Nutrition said late Friday that its Prescription Diet m/d Feline dry cat food included the tainted wheat gluten. The FDA said the source was the same unidentified company. Hill's, a division of Colgate-Palmolive Co., is so far the only company to recall any dry pet food.

Federal testing of some recalled pet foods and the wheat gluten used in their production turned up the chemical melamine. Melamine is used to make kitchenware and other plastics. It is both a contaminant and byproduct of several pesticides, including cyromazine, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Melamine is toxic only in very high doses and has been shown in rats to produce bladder tumors, according to the EPA.

The federal pet food testing failed to confirm the presence of aminopterin, a cancer drug also used as rat poison, the FDA said. Cornell University scientists also found melamine in the urine of sick cats, as well as in the kidney of one cat that died after eating some of the recalled food.

Earlier, the New York State Food Laboratory identified aminopterin as the likely culprit in the pet food. But the FDA said it could not confirm that finding, nor have researchers at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey when they looked at tissue samples taken from dead cats.
Pets around the country have been affected by the contamination, and the true toll is unknown. Veterinarians have been fielding calls for the past several weeks from pet owners trying to figure out what to do next.

The pet food manufacturers have a crisis on their hands and they've got to get ahead of the problem in a very aggressive manner. They also have to make amends to pet owners whose pets have been injured or killed by the contaminated pet food.

Forget about trying to sue the manufacturers as an individual. The way that legal experts think this is going to shake out is in the form of class action suits. You get the benefit of shared legal representation, medical and scientific experts, and the weight of hundreds or thousands of participants spreading the risk of the case expenses.
Numerous pet owners around the country have sued or are considering legal action against Menu Foods. Some are seeking class action status.

"I would love to find an attorney to take on this company," said Brenda Hitchcock of Tampa, Fla. Hitchcock said she racked up $4,000 in veterinarian bills trying to save her 5-year-old cat "S.S." to no avail. She said she still has two pouches of the recalled food to prove her case.

Ontario-based Menu Foods has taken a low-key approach to the recall, expressing concern for people who have lost pets and offering to pay veterinary bills if a pet's illness or death can be directly linked to the food, but admitting no wrongdoing.

Jack Hall, a product liability lawyer from Pittsburgh, said the owner of a dog or cat used for breeding or of a specially trained animal could argue for higher compensation on the basis of lost potential earnings.

Hall said pet owners would fare better if they joined in a class action suit.

"I would think this kind of case would allow itself to a class action. That could work for somebody here," he said.

Still, Tobias said even a class-action suit could be tricky.

"The factual variations in the cases will make it very difficult to form a class action," he said. "Will people have the proof they need to trace the harm done to the animal back to Menu Foods?"
Well, one way to trace the harm would include retaining grocery and pet store receipts for the food purchased, along with health records for the pets and any tests done following the pets' illnesses. One has to establish a paper trail to show that their pet consumed the alleged tainted food.

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