Rat poison found in recalled pet food

Menu Foods expands recall to all brands of 'cuts and gravy' style pet food after finding a chemical used in rat poison as the source of contamination, officials say.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A chemical used in rat poison was found in recalled pet food that has killed several animals and sickened hundreds of others, the food laboratory of New York state and the Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell University said in a news conference Friday.

The center found the chemical aminopterin, a derivative of folic acid, in studies of several recalled cans of wet pet food manufactured and distributed by Menu Foods Inc. (Charts), of Ontario, which had recalled 60 million cans last week after the reports of sickened animals.

Aminopterin is a banned chemical in the United States, and can cause renal failure in animals and in humans, according to the center.

Menu Foods expanded the recall Friday to include all brands of its "cuts and gravy" style pet food after the Food and Drug Administration reported that some retailers had not removed the originally recalled items from store shelves.

Donald Smith, dean of the Cornell center, said that the 16 pet deaths reported in relation to the recall seemed low in light of information that's come to the center's attention over the past few days, and suggested the FDA could provide more concrete numbers.

During a teleconference held later Friday, the FDA would not confirm the number of pet deaths but said the agency had received more than 3,400 calls - of confirmed and unconfirmed cases - related to the pet food recall. Additional staff had been enlisted for fielding the multitude of calls to the agency, it said.

FDA's director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine, Stephen Sundlof, told reporters that one of the "likely suspect" ingredients, wheat gluten, a product found in many human foods, was traced to Menu Foods plants in Kansas and New Jersey. He said wheat gluten is primarily imported by a foreign company but would not provide more details about the provider.

"We certainly don't think there's any risk to public health but we can't rule that possibility out entirely," Sundlof said, "and we have contacted our colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." But he emphasized, "This is very very precautionary and we have no reason to believe that this chemical has entered the human food supply."

Calls for comment to the CDC were not returned Friday.

Menu Foods President and CEO Paul Henderson, at a news conference in Toronto Friday, acknowledged that wheat gluten is used in the company's products. He said that although the company still did not know the source of the contaminant, the recall will not expand to other products lines produced by the company

"Over the past seven days we have spoken to almost 200,000 consumers. They are scared. Some like myself are angry," Henderson said, a pet owner himself.

He said he continues to feed his pet Menu Foods products, but not those produced at the New Jersey and Kansas facilities, as mandated by the recall.

Those items are packaged under a wide variety of brand names and sold at a number of retailers including Kroger (Charts), Safeway (Charts), Wal-Mart (Charts), and at specialty pet stores like PetSmart (Charts) and Pet Valu (Charts).

The company has temporarily shut down its plant in Emporia, Kansas, for two to three days in the wake of the recall, but there were no layoffs at the plant, according to spokeswoman Sarah Tuite.

Menu Foods on March 16 announced the original, precautionary recall of dog and cat food manufactured between December 3 and March 6. The original recall was limited to "cuts and gravy" style food in cans and pouches produced at the Kansas and New Jersey plants.

Earlier this week, a pet owner from Wisconsin filed a class action lawsuit against Menu Foods seeking unspecified damages after her cat became seriously ill after eating food made by the company. Menu Foods would not comment on the lawsuit.

A complete list of the 42 cat food and 53 dog food products involved in the recall is online at www.menufoods.com/recall.

-- By CNN's Katy Byron and Caleb Silver; Adam Reiss contributed to this report.

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