WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A major pet food recall has expanded again as manufacturer Menu Foods Income Fund revealed evidence of cross-contamination by some cat and dog food pulled since March.
About 4,000 complaints of related pet deaths have been reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by Thursday, but the agency said that only 16 deaths of cats and dogs have been confirmed.
The pet foods recalled late on Wednesday were made at the same facility at the same time as other Menu Foods products that contained wheat gluten tainted with the chemical melamine, the company said in statement.
Menu Foods, which initiated a recall of 60 million packages of pet food on March 16, said the additional products were not supposed to contain wheat gluten, but a customer report and study results indicated cross-contamination.
Since then, Menu Foods has expanded its recall several times.
Melamine, used in plastics and fertilizer, has turned up in wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate imported from China and shipped to various pet food manufacturers. More than 100 brands of pet food have been recalled after reports of kidney failure in cats and dogs and several pet deaths.
Menu Foods makes pet food sold under a variety of labels such as Iams, Eukanuba, President’s Choice and Nutro Max Gourmet Classics and store brands sold at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Safeway Inc. and Petsmart Inc.
Other pet food manufacturers, including Colgate-Palmolive Co., Nestle SA, and Del Monte Pet Products, have also pulled some brands.
The recalls came amid mounting reports of pet deaths and thousands of consumer complaints to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s hotline.
The agency has received about 17,000 complaints of sick pets, with deaths reported in half of about 8,000 complaints that have been entered into an FDA database, it said.
The FDA has expanded its investigation to include livestock feed that contained tainted pet food and made its way to some 6,000 hogs and as many as 3.1 million chickens.
While both the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have said food from those pigs and chickens poses little risk for humans, they have called for remaining livestock that consumed the feed to be slaughtered.
Wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate are also used in human foods such as bread and pasta, but there is “no evidence that it has ended up in baby food or for that matter any other human food as an ingredient,” said FDA Assistant Commissioner for Food Protection David Acheson.
He said the FDA was continuing to hold vegetable-based proteins from China at the border pending further inspection as well as testing samples of pet foods and ingredients already in the United States.
Of 700 domestic samples tested, about 400 tested positive for melamine and were traced back to the two Chinese companies — Binzhou Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd. and Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd.
FDA investigators are in China working with officials there, Acheson said.
The FDA has said it thinks a combination of melamine and melamine-related compounds form crystals in some pets’ kidneys that can cause problems. “We don’t believe that the melamine alone is the cause of this,” Acheson said.
Additional reporting by Christopher Doering