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Recall Expands To Include Wheat-Free Diets

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newslineRecall Expands to Include Wheat-Free DietsRecall Expands to Include Wheat-Free DietsRecall Expands to Include Wheat-Free Diets

Melamine, the toxic ingredient suspected in causing potentially hundreds of pet deaths during the last few months, was found in an imported rice protein used to make dog and cat food, fueling concern that the largest pet food recall in history might expand even further.

The U.S. government is inspecting all rice imports from China, it said today.

Up until this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had focused on wheat gluten laced with melamine as the prime suspect in the pet food recall that has affected more than 100 brands. It also banned imports of wheat gluten from a single Chinese supplier after finding the gluten contaminated with melamine.

On Tuesday, however, Natural Balance Pet Foods of Pacoima, Calif., recalled all of its wheat-free Venison dog products and its dry Venison cat food, regardless of code dates due to melamine found in its rice protein concentrate, an ingredient recently added to the below products.

The recalled products include:
Venison and Brown Rice Dry Dog Formula
Venison and Brown Rice Canned Dog Food
Venison & Brown Rice Formula Dog Treats
Venison and Green Pea Dry Cat Formula

Menu Foods Inc. recalled an additional product Tuesday: Natural Life Vegetarian 13.2 ounce canned dog food with the date “Nov/22/09” and product code 12344-07114. The Canadian manufacturer had already recalled more than 5,000 pet food products representing millions of individual cans and packages due to wheat gluten contaminated with melamine.

Suspect Chinese Rice
The Natural Balance Venison products were manufactured at Diamond Pet Food’s Lanthrop, Calif., plant, which obtained the rice protein concentrate from San Francisco-importer Wilbur-Ellis, said Daniel Bernstein a publicist from Warren Cowan Associates, the Los Angeles public relations firm representing Natural Balance.

The suspect rice protein concentrate was imported from its Chinese supplier of the item, Binzhou Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd., according to Wilbur-Ellis’s CEO John Thatcher.

Earlier this week, the company noticed a single bag of the rice protein imported from Futian with the words “melamine” stenciled on it. The bag was pink rather than white as the other bags were, the company said.

It informed the FDA on Sunday, April 15, that the bag tested positive for melamine, the company said.

About half of the 336 metric tons of rice protein concentrate Wilbur-Ellis imported from the Chinese supplier were distributed to five pet food companies, said Thatcher. More than 90 percent of that went to two companies.

Privacy contracts prevent it from naming those five companies, but the FDA was informed of who they are, Thatcher said.

Wilbur-Ellis, an 86-year-old company began working with Futian to import the new product in July, Thatcher said. The company no longer imports the product.

“Given what we know now, we wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole,” he said. The rice protein concentrate represents less than ½ a percent of the company’s sales, he said.

The FDA had been at its Oregon feed plant, which imported the rice protein concentrate, for the past several days, Thatcher said.

The government’s investigation into this recent recall is ongoing, an FDA spokesperson told Pet Product News this morning, but declined to elaborate at this time.

As news of the recalled rice-protein concentrate spread, other pet food makers sought to alleviate consumers’ fears about their products.

None of Diamond’s pet food or any of the items it makes for other pet food companies include the rice protein concentrate, said Jim Fallon, a spokesperson for Diamond. It was brought in specifically for the Natural Balance items, he said.

“We are tracking and inspecting all rice protein from China,” the spokesperson said.
Hill’s Pet Nutrition, a company affected by the multi-brand Menu Foods recall mid-March, uses a rice protein concentrate in four of its diets but testing for melamine on its products – Prescription Diet z/d Feline Dry, Prescription Diet k/d Canine canned, Science Diet Lamb Meal and Rice Recipe Puppy Large Breed, and Prescription Diet h/d Canine Dry – turned up negative, the company said. 

“Hill uses two suppliers, neither of which are involved in this rice protein concentrate recall,” it said.

Nutro, another company involved in the previous Menu Foods recall, says that although it uses rice protein in some of its products, it has never used rice protein concentrate supplied by Wilbur-Ellis.

Natural Balance
The Natural Balance recall was prompted by six calls the company received from dog owners last Thursday and Friday complaining that their pets were exhibiting signs of kidney failure after consuming the Venison & Brown Rice Formula Dry dog food, the company said. Since then, Natural Balance has received dozens of calls, Bernstein said.

Although the pets’ symptoms are similar to those who apparently ate contaminated Menu-produced food, the FDA was not sure the two were related.

“There is no indication at this time whether this is related to the ongoing pet food recalls,” it said.

Although the FDA strongly suspects melamine is related to the animal deaths, it continues to investigate the recall.

“FDA is not 100 percent certain that melamine, a relatively nontoxic substance, is the cause of the spate of pet illnesses and deaths,” it said. “Although some studies have shown a toxic effect of melamine in rodents, research is scarce on melamine’s effect on cats and dogs.”

The animal illnesses appear connected to only one production period of its Venison products, but over the last four days the company began notifying its distributors and retailers, including Petco, by phone and e-mail to stop selling and return the recalled products, Natural Balance said.

None of its other products, which include organic, allergy-sensitive and zoo diets, contain the rice protein concentrate and therefore are not involved in the recall, says the company, which was co-founded by actor Dick Van Patten.

Watchful Consumers
With an additional ingredient implicated in the widening pet food recall, some groups sought to keep consumers vigilant of their pets’ health.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) continued to post updates regarding the recall on its website and through media alerts.

“It’s clear from this new information that all pet owners should remain vigilant regarding the ongoing pet food recalls,” said AVMA president Dr. Roger Mahr. “Information is power, and keeping current will help pet owners protect their pets from contaminated food.”

The veterinary association also urged vets to report recall-related illnesses to the FDA’s state coordinator, which are listed here.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also cautioned pet owners to remain alert.

“With the FDA today expanding the recall to include products containing rice protein concentrate, it is imperative that we stay abreast of recall news, and remain extremely vigilant to our pets’ wellbeing,” said Steven Hansen, DVM, DABVT, vice president of the ASPCA’s poison control center. “If they show any of the signs generally attributed to kidney failure—or illness in general—please take them to your veterinarian immediately.”

The FDA’s Role
Natural Balance is working closely with the FDA, Bernstein said, and it expects to have some of its Venison products cleared for consumption within days.

Some, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) have questioned the FDA’s handling of the pet food recall.

“The FDA’s response to this situation has been wholly inadequate – we need to establish standardized inspections, impose penalties on companies who delay reporting health problems and increase communication between the FDA and the state inspectors so that we can catch potential problems more quickly,” he said during a Senate hearing to investigate the recall.

The FDA has responded that its limited resources are more often spent investigating riskier industries, such as human meat processing plants.

The Menu Foods Emporia, Kan., plant where many of the 60 million-plus cans of melamine-tainted pet food were produced was not inspected by the FDA until after the March 16 recall was initiated, the government agency said.

Melamine, the toxic ingredient suspected in causing potentially hundreds of pet deaths during the last few months, was found in an imported rice protein used to make dog and cat food.Melamine, the toxic ingredient suspected in causing potentially hundreds of pet deaths during the last few months, was found in an imported rice protein used to make dog and cat food.04-19-2007

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