- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The poisoning of the nation’s pets is turning quickly from consumer concern into full-blown Kibblegate. Tainted pet food has become a political and cultural scandal.

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich said the situation symbolizes massive failure of the Food and Drug Administration. The Ohio Democrat and presidential hopeful has sent 20 questions to Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, demanding to know what agency officials knew and when they knew it.

“Millions of American families have a right to be assured that everything possible is being done to protect the health of their beloved family pets and to determine how in the world the pet food supply could have been contaminated,” Mr. Kucinich said yesterday. “We also must find out when the FDA officials first learned our nation’s pets were in danger of being poisoned.”

Pollsters have joined in. A survey released yesterday by New York-based ad agency J. Walter Thompson found that 68 percent of 1,172 adults said that the pet food contamination shows “how vulnerable the U.S. is to an attack on its food supplies.”

A Gallup survey of 1,006 adults also released yesterday found a third of pet owners are worried, 63 percent said that owners of poisoned pets should be able to sue for personal property damages, while 33 percent said the owners are entitled to receive compensation for “pain and suffering.”

Virginia-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, meanwhile, has accused the FDA of a cover-up and is calling for the resignation of the commissioner, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach.

Since mid-March, Canada-based Menu Foods Inc. has recalled 91 brands of dog and cat food. Sixteen pets have since died, though “the final death toll could exceed 10,000,” according to Lerach Coughlin, a law firm that filed two class-action lawsuits against the manufacturer yesterday.

At least a dozen critical newspaper editorials have emerged this week, along with much media coverage of dying pets and bereaved owners, itself a source of irritation for some.

“Fifteen cats and one dog have died, and it’s been all over the news. And you know, since that date, 29 soldiers have died, and we haven’t heard much about them,” co-host Rosie O’Donnell commented recently on ABC’s “The View.”

Catfish lovers, however, may be more riled than anyone else. The nation’s catfish farmers and processors have been irked for years over Asian catfish imports, warning that the fish are raised under unhealthy conditions. They are convinced that Chinese wheat gluten suspected in the pet food poisoning is also fed to foreign-raised catfish.

“This pet food incident has shined a light on an issue that already exists, and that is the fact that there are many contaminated products coming from China, not just wheat,” said Dick Stevens of Consolidated Catfish Cos. in Isola, Miss.

The Catfish Farmers of America has tracked 49 shipments of Chinese-farmed catfish that were refused entry into the U.S. in the past year. The group is calling for federal legislation extending the requirements of listing the product’s origin. The group wants restaurants, which account for more than 70 percent of catfish consumption, to list the origin of the catfish they serve.

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