(Beyond Pesticides, March 28, 2007) Menu Foods, which markets cat and dog food in the United States under 95 brand names, has recalled 60 million cans and pouches of wet pet food. The deaths of fifteen cats and one dog are being blamed on an analog of folic acid, aminopterin, which is used overseas as rat poison.
In high doses, the rodenticide causes acute kidney failure, which has been named as the cause of death in an estimated sixteen pets (as reported by Menu Foods; the Food and Drug Administration lists 14 dead; in contrast, the Veterinary Information Network, a website with 30,000 members in the profession, reported 471 cases of kidney failure, including 104 deaths, since the recall). The drug’s history includes uses for cancer treatment and, at one point, inducing abortions. The compound is banned in the U.S. for pesticide use, but is still used to kill rodents in other countries. Among aminopterin’s side effects in humans are cancer and birth defects.
On March 23, scientists at the New York State Food Laboratory confirmed aminopterin as the toxic chemical present in the Menu Food samples, at levels of at least 40 parts per million. Regulators suspect that the pet food was contaminated by wheat gluten from China that was treated with the poison. However, Bob Rosenberg, senior vice president of governmental affairs for the National Pest Management Association, said, “It would make no sense to spray a crop itself with rodenticide,” noting that bait stations are common in grain storage facilities. Of the chemical’s determination, said Donald Smith, dean of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “This is one step in a long process that will lead us to know what has happened and how it has happened.”
Menu Foods, according to president and CEO Paul Henderson, will begin testing “suspect raw materials” for additional contamination. He continued, “We have the support of our customers, we have the support of our employees. We’re confident in the future and we remain confident we can put this behind us.” Meanwhile, investigators are considering the possibility that aminopterin is not the only toxic chemical responsible for the poisonings. Lawrence McGill, a veterinary pathologist from Salt Lake City, warned, “If it is not the only culprit, as I suspect, the problem isn’t over.”
Menu Foods’ recall includes food manufactured between December 3, 2006, and March 6, 2007. The company is offering to reimburse pet owners who can prove the connection between their pet’s illness and the recalled products for their medical expenses.
While aminopterin is banned as a rodenticide in the U.S., many Environmental Protection Agency-approved rodenticides and other pesticides are commonly used and readily available. Unfortunately, some of these chemicals can and do affect the health of companion animals, as well as their owners. Many behavior patterns of pets put them at risk for being exposed to toxic pesticides, whether they are exposed through their food or prey, or through playing in a treated home, lawn, garden or field. To protect your pets, children and yourself from poisoning, check our alternatives factsheets for least-toxic management ideas.