> Diet and Nutrition
> Food Recall
2007 a number of cats in the USA suddenly began developing kidney
Some of them died.
What Happened: The Problem
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
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
Frequently Asked Questions about the recall.
The Veterinary Information Network
overview of the problem and of treatment options.
Contaminated Ingredients Found
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.
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 2007, 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 2007, 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
Rice Protein Concentrate
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
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:
Diamond Pet Foods, manufacturers
of Natural Balance dry
Chenango Valley Pet Foods,
manufacturers of Drs. Foster &
Royal Canin, manufacturers of their own
CJ Foods, manufacturers of Blue Buffalo dry foods.
American Nutrition, manufacturers
of Blue Buffalo and
Natural Balance canned foods.
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
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 2007, the FDA
announced that it had ascertained that
the contaminated product was wheat flour once
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.
Spreads to Other Countries
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
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
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.
obliged to recall certain foods.
of the Problem
Initially it was thought
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 had tested. Acetaminophen (known as
paracetamol in Europe) is a painkiller that 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
Environmental Protection Agency
general information on the toxicity of melamine. One study,
Urolithiasis and bladder carcinogenicity of melamine
in rodents (1984)
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
"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
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
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."
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
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
Menu Foods apparently became aware of the problem on 20 February 2007, and
began conducting tests on its inhouse 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
US Food & Drug Administration
had received 17,000 complaints and
reports of the deaths of 1950 cats and 2200 dogs.
Surviving Cats Were
Affected cats were showing symptoms of kidney
disease, which is also
known as kidney failure. There are two types of kidney problem, chronic
kidney disease (CKD, the primary subject of this website) 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, s/he 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
However, CKD is not necessarily an
immediate death sentence. Even now in
2020), some thirteen years after the crisis, I still
occasionally 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.
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.
Other Food Recalls
maintains a list of cat food recalls that is regularly updated.
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page last updated: 27 May 2020
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