2007 CONTAMINATED CAT FOOD RECALL
In 2007 a number of cats in the USA suddenly began developing kidney failure. Some of them died.
The common denominator was the foods which the affected cats were eating.
The problem was eventually traced to ingredients imported from China. In some cases, the ingredients were included in the food without the knowledge of the manufacturer.
A lawsuit was settled in 2008.
Some affected cats survived but continue to suffer from kidney disease.
The Problem Back to Page Index
On 19 March 2007, 60 million cans and pouches of "cuts and gravy style" cat and dog food were recalled. These foods were sold in the USA, Mexico and Canada under a number of different brand names, but were all manufactured by a company called Menu Foods. The foods were recalled because an unspecified number of cats and dogs had suffered kidney failure, and nine cats and one dog died, after eating foods manufactured in Menu Foods plants in Emporia, Kansas and Pennsauken, New Jersey. The sickness and death rate continued to rise (see below), and on 27 April 2007, the FDA stated that it had received reports of the deaths of 1950 cats and 2200 dogs.
Subsequently, a number of other pet foods were recalled which had been manufactured by companies other than Menu Foods.
The US Food & Drug Administration, the government body responsible for overseeing pet food safety in the USA, provides an overview of the situation.
The US Food & Drug Administration answers Frequently Asked Questions about the recall.
The Veterinary Information Network has an overview of the problem and of treatment options.
Contaminated Ingredients Found Back to Page Index
On Friday 30 March 2007, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced that melamine, a type of plastic not approved for use in human or animal foods, had been found in both recalled foods and in a cat who had died. The main ingredients that were contaminated with melamine were labelled wheat gluten, rice protein concentrate and corn gluten.
The problem initially appeared to be linked to an ingredient common to all the foods manufactured by Menu Foods, wheat gluten. The wheat gluten was provided to Menu Foods by Chem-Nutra, which had obtained it from a new source in China between December 2006 and March 2007. The wheat gluten was suspected to be contaminated with aminopterin and/or melamine, and possibly other as yet undetected substances.
On 27 April, the FDA announced that it had tested 750 samples of wheat gluten and that 330 had been found to contain melamine or melamine-related compounds.
On 8 May, the FDA announced that it had ascertained that it was in fact wheat flour which was contaminated rather than wheat gluten, but the wheat flour had been wrongly labelled as wheat gluten.
On 6 February 2008, Breitbart reported that Chem-Nutra had been charged with 13 counts of introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce and 13 counts of introduction of misbranded food into interstate commerce.
On 17 April 2007, Natural Balance recalled its Venison and Green Pea dry cat food because of reports of kidney failure associated with the food. This food did not contain wheat gluten, but instead contained rice protein concentrate which was then also found to contain melamine.
Five different pet food manufacturers purchased rice protein concentrate from the same source, which the US Food & Drug Administration named on 22 April as Wilbur-Ellis, a Californian-based importer. The affected rice protein concentrate was imported into the USA by Wilbur-Ellis during the week of 2 April and was reported to have been distributed to the following manufacturers:
A number of additional cat foods containing rice protein concentrate and made by these companies were subsequently recalled. Some of these foods, such as those from Natural Balance and Blue Buffalo, allegedly had rice protein concentrate added to them without the knowledge or approval of the companies who had developed these brand name formulas, and therefore the ingredient labels on the foods were incorrect.
On 27 April 2007, the FDA announced that it had tested 85 samples of rice protein concentrate and that 27 had been found to contain melamine or melamine-related compounds.
On 8 May, the FDA announced that it had ascertained that the contaminated product was wheat flour again rather than rice protein concentrate, but that it had been wrongly labelled as rice protein concentrate.
On 15 April 2007, News 24 announced that Royal Canin was recalling all of its foods in South Africa manufactured under the Royal Canin and Vet's Choice names following reports of sick animals. On 19 April 2007, News 24 announced that the food had been found to contain corn gluten contaminated with melamine, which had also originated in China.
Problem Spreads to Other Countries Back to Page Index
On 24 March 2007, a Belgian government agency, the FAVV (Federal Food Standards Agency), reported on the import of affected Nutro products into Europe. The relevant part of the press release reads:
"Belgium has imported 40 boxes each containing 24 items. The Food Agency is trying to find out where these products have been sold but has not received any information from the USA supplier as yet. It is also possible that there is more than this amount on the Belgian market, possibly through import from other EU countries. Europe has imported a total of 3440 boxes."
In a later press release dated 27 March 2007, FAVV stated that it had been told by the European Union that Belgium did not need to be concerned because only 160 boxes in total had been imported into Europe, and none of these had been distributed apart from a few to southern Italy. However, I heard of people buying affected food in The Netherlands and Germany.
Menu Foods finally got around to admitting to the European problem on 5 April 2007. It said that "seven varieties for Europe" had been added to the recall but did not bother specifying which varieties they were. It is my understanding that they were Nutro products. On 13 April 2007, Nutro issued an international recall of its canned foods.
On 2 May 2007, Menu Foods announced yet more recalls, and once again it included "a further two varieties for Europe", but they did not bother to specify which products were involved. I suspected that the affected foods might be Italian foods called Stuzzy Gold and Despar.
South Africa was also obliged to recall certain foods.
Cause of the Problem Back to Page Index
Initially it was thought that a compound known as aminopterin, which has been used in the past as both a cancer treatment and a rat poison, might be the cause. However, testing by the US Food & Drug Administration failed to find traces of aminopterin in all the affected foods.
It was also reported that a Texan laboratory had found traces of acetaminophen in dog and cat food that it has tested. Acetaminophen is a painkiller which is known as paracetamol in Europe, and it is toxic to cats. The FDA was also unable to replicate these findings.
On 30 March 2007, it was reported that the US Food & Drug Administration had found traces of melamine, which is a chemical commonly used to make plastic (you have probably used melamine bowls), in affected foods containing wheat gluten. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine also found traces of melamine in the urine of sick cats, and in the kidney of a deceased cat. Melamine was subsequently also found in rice protein concentrate, and in South Africa in corn gluten.
There is little information as to the toxicity of melamine as regards kidney failure in cats. The Environmental Protection Agency has some general information on the toxicity of melamine. One study, Urolithiasis and bladder carcinogenicity of melamine in rodents (1984) Melnick RL, Boorman GA, Haseman JK, Montali RJ, Huff J, Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 72(2) pp293-303 found high doses of melamine appeared to cause uroliths (stones) and cancer, whilst female rats developed chronic inflammation of the kidney.
On 24 April, the FDA confirmed that cyanuric acid had also been found in affected rice protein concentrate and wheat gluten. Cyanuric acid is similar to malamine. It is often used in outdoor swimming pools. Cyanuric acid is not thought to be massively toxic but the US Department of Agriculture has stated that:
"The contaminants in question include melamine and melamine-related compounds, including cyanuric acid, the combination of which is a potential source of concern in relation to human and animal health. Scientific research indicates that melamine alone, at detected levels, is not a human health concern".
The US Food & Drug Administration has a 30 minute video about the investigation into the contamination of pet foods and how the causes were determined.
Clinicopathologic, histologic, and toxicologic findings in 70 cats inadvertently exposed to pet food contaminated with melamine and cyanuric acid (2008) Ciancolo RE, Bischoff K, Ebel JG, Van Winkle TJ, Goldstein RE & Serfilippi LM Journal of the American Veterinary Association 233(5) pp729-37 found that cats fed contaminated foods developed problems with the urinary tract, in particular the formation of crystals and kidney disease.
CBC Canada reported on research at the University of Guelph which indicated that melamine and cyanuric acid may react together and be potentially more dangerous.
Assessment of melamine and cyanuric acid toxicity in cats (2007) Puschner B, Poppenga RH, Lowenstine LJ, Filigenzi MS & Pesavento PA Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation 19(6) pp616-24 concluded that "the combination of melamine and cyanuric acid is responsible for acute renal failure in cats."
Which Foods Were Affected? Back to Page Index
The original recall included foods sold under the Hill's, Iams, Eukanuba and Nutro brand names plus another 37 brands sold under store brand names such as Wal-Mart. Under the original recall, only chunks in gravy type foods were affected. In principle no dry foods were affected, although many dry foods do contain wheat gluten and reports exist of affected cats who had only eaten dry food. Some foods subsequently recalled by other manufacturers because of rice protein concentrate problems were indeed dry foods.
The US Food & Drug Administration has an extensive list of recalled foods.
The Pet Food List has a list of recalled foods.
Mortality Rate Back to Page Index
Menu Foods apparently became aware of the problem on 20 February 2007, and began conducting tests on its in-house animals used in feeding trials a week later. It fed the foods to 40-50 cats and dogs, and seven of them died. This is a mortality rate of 14% to 17.5%. The problem appeared to affect cats more severely than dogs.
The FDA apparently investigated the deaths of only 13 cats and one dog, but I myself heard from many people whose cats were affected, and when I spoke to Menu Foods on 19 March 2007, the person I spoke to had already logged reports of around ten deaths in one morning. As at 22 March 2007, the Animal Medical Center in New York had apparently heard about at least 200 cases of acute kidney injury in animals eating the affected foods. ABC News reported on 27 March that the Veterinary Information Network had received reports of almost 500 deaths, whilst other sources put the number at over 2000.
As at 26 April 2007, the US Food & Drug Administration had received 17,000 complaints and reports of the deaths of 1950 cats and 2200 dogs.
How Surviving Cats Were Affected Back to Page Index
Affected cats were showing symptoms of kidney failure, which is also known as renal failure. There are two types of kidney problem, chronic kidney disease (CKD, the primary subject of this website) and acute kidney injury (AKI), and most of the cats affected by the Menu Foods products appeared to develop AKI but some cats did develop CKD instead of or following AKI.
AKI is a serious condition which usually comes on suddenly and is often triggered by a particular event, such as eating something poisonous.In some cases, cats were falling ill very quickly after eating only one small can of the affected food. If treated immediately, some of these cats were able to pull through (my own vet managed to save every case he saw), but not all of them were so lucky. Dr Katherine James of the Veterinary Information Network and my own vet both recommended a lengthy course of IV fluids - a day or two was simply not sufficient.
In other cases, cats had been fed the affected food for a period of time before exhibiting symptoms - in the trials run by Menu Foods, it was reported that the first animals to be affected began dying or showing signs of sickness within four days of eating the food, but some did not show signs until later.
AKI is usually treated with intravenous fluids (a drip) and other medications at the vet's and, although it is hard to treat, if the cat survives the initial crisis, he/she can often regain much or sometimes all of his/her normal kidney function. Cats who do not regain all their kidney function may be left with some permanent damage, resulting in CKD. However, CKD is not necessarily an immediate death sentence. Even now (late 2012), I still hear from people whose cats ate affected foods but who are still going strong.
Veterinary Information Network
provided information on which tests should be performed in cats
exposed to recalled foods.
Veterinary Information Network provided information on which tests should be performed in cats exposed to recalled foods.
Legal Settlement Back to Page Index
In 2008 a US$24M settlement was approved for those affected by the food recalls. The American Association for Justice has details of the process.
In August 2010 Menu Foods was taken over by Simmons Pet Food Inc.
This page last updated: 05 April 2012
Links on this page last checked: 05 April 2012