- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Rat poison was found in pet food blamed for the deaths of at least 16 cats and dogs, but scientists said yesterday they still don’t know how it got there and predicted more animal deaths would be linked to it.

After the announcement, the company that produced the food expanded its recall to include all 95 brands of the “cuts and gravy” style food, regardless of when they were produced. The company also said it would take responsibility for pet medical expenses incurred as a result of the food.

The substance in the food was identified as aminopterin, a cancer drug that once was used to induce abortions in the United States and is still used to kill rats in some other countries, state Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker said.

The federal government prohibits using aminopterin for killing rodents in the United States. State officials would not speculate on how the poison got into the pet food, but said no criminal investigations had been launched.

The pet deaths led to a recall of 60 million cans and pouches of dog and cat food produced by Menu Foods and sold throughout North America under 95 brand names. Some pets that ate the recalled brands suffered kidney failure, and the company has confirmed the deaths of 15 cats and one dog.

The latest death, a Yorkshire terrier named Pebbles, occurred Thursday. The dog died of kidney failure after eating some of the food. Her owner, Jeff Kerner, said he was contacting an attorney because he wanted to prevent another pet tragedy.

“Before they put this stuff in the bags, there should be some kind of test,” said Mr. Kerner, of Sherman Oaks, Calif. “I can’t just let it go. Even if they just change the law.”

The company expanded the recall — which initially covered only cans and pouches of food packaged from Dec. 3 through March 6 — after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alerted it that some products remained on store shelves.

There is no risk to pet owners from handling the food, officials said.

The FDA has said the investigation into the pet deaths was focused on wheat gluten in the food. The gluten itself would not cause kidney failure, but it could have been contaminated, the FDA said.

Bob Rosenberg, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association, said it would be unusual for the wheat to be tainted.

“It would make no sense to spray a crop itself with rodenticide,” Mr. Rosenberg said, adding that grain shippers typically put bait stations around the perimeter of their storage facilities.

Scientists at the New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell University and at the New York State Food Laboratory tested three cat food samples provided by the manufacturer and found aminopterin in two of them. The two labs are part of a network created after the September 11 terrorist attacks to keep the nation’s animals and food supply safe.

“Any amount of this product is too much in food,” Mr. Hooker said.

Aminopterin is highly toxic in high doses. It inhibits the growth of malignant cells and suppresses the immune system. In dogs and cats, the amount of aminopterin found — 40 parts per million — can cause kidney failure, according to Bruce Akey, director of Cornell’s diagnostic center.

“It’s there in substantial amounts,” Mr. Akey said.

Donald Smith, dean of Cornell’s veterinary school, said he expected the number of pet deaths to increase. “Based on what we’ve heard the last couple days, 16 is a low number,” Mr. Smith said.

Aminopterin is no longer marketed as a cancer drug, but is still used in research.

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