March 23, 2007
ALBANY, N.Y. Rat poison has been found in pet food blamed for the deaths of at least 16 cats and dogs, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Agriculture and Markets said Friday.
Spokeswoman Jessica Chittenden would not identify the chemical or its source beyond saying it was a rodent poison.
ABC News reported it was aminopterin that may have been on imported wheat used in the pet food. Aminopterin is used to kill rats in some countries but is not registered for that use in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The chemical, also a cancer drug, is highly toxic in high doses.
Officials from the agriculture department and Cornell University's Animal Health Diagnostic Center would not immediately confirm the ABC report but scheduled a news conference Friday afternoon to release laboratory findings from tests on the pet food.
The Food and Drug Administration has said the investigation was focusing on wheat gluten in the food. Wheat gluten itself would not cause kidney failure, but the common ingredient could have been contaminated by heavy metals or mold toxins, the FDA said.
State and FBI officials said they knew of no criminal investigations in the case.
The pet deaths led to a recall of 60 million cans and pouches of pet food produced by Menu Foods and sold throughout North America under 95 brand names. There have been several reports of kidney failure in pets that ate the recalled brands, and the company has confirmed the deaths of 15 cats and one dog.
Menu Foods last week recalled "cuts and gravy" style dog and cat food. The recall sparked concern among pet owners across North America. It includes food sold under store brands carried by Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway and other large retailers, as well as private labels such as Iams, Nutro and Eukanuba.
Menu Foods is majority owned by Menu Foods Income Fund of Streetsville. The company also makes foods for zoo cats, but those products are unaffected by the recall.
The company's chief executive and president said Menu Foods delayed announcing the recall until it could confirm that the animals had eaten its product before dying. Two earlier complaints from consumers whose cats had died involved animals that lived outside or had access to a garage, which left open the possibility they had been poisoned by something other than contaminated food, he said.
Menu Foods planned a media teleconference for later Friday, a spokesman said.
A spokesman for New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said he was not aware of any criminal investigation involving the tainted food. FBI spokesman Paul Holstein in Albany said Friday he was not aware of any FBI involvement in the case.
"I don't know where we'll go from here," he said.
A complete list of the recalled products along with product codes, descriptions and production dates was posted online by Menu Foods and is available at http://tinyurl.com/2pn6mm. The company also designated two phone numbers that pet owners could call for information: (866) 463-6738 and (866) 895-2708.
Associated Press writer Andrew Bridges in Washington contributed to this report.