LARGEST PET FOOD RECALL EVER
A Genetic Engineered Food Disaster?
By Dr. Michael W. Fox
I have received several letters from dog and cat owners thanking me
for 'saving their animal's lives' because they were feeding them the
kind of home-made diet that I have been advocating as a veterinarian
for some years. These letters came after the largest pet food recall
in the pet food industry's history.
On March 23, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
announced that rat poison in contaminated wheat gluten imported from
China was responsible for the suffering and deaths of an as yet
uncounted numbers of cats and dogs across North America. The poison
is a chemical compound called aminopterin.
Veterinary toxicologists with the ASPCA and American College of
Internal Veterinary Medicine shared my concern that there may be some
other food contaminant(s) in addition to the aminopterin that was
sickening and killing many pets. Experts were not convinced that the
finding of rat poison contamination was the end of the story.
On March 30, the FDA reported finding a widely used compound called
melamine (formed by dehydration of urea and used in the manufacture
of plastics, as a wood resin adhesive, and in slow-release urea
fertilizer), in the suspect pet foods. The FDA claims the melamine
was the cause of an as yet uncounted number of cat and dog poisonings
and deaths. The FDA could not find the rat poison, aminopterin, in
the samples it analyzed; however a lab in Canada, at the University
of Guelph, has confirmed the presence of rat poison. There may be
other substances of a hazardous nature not yet discovered in these
manufactured pet foods that include other ingredients considered
unfit for human consumption, and from around the world.
The Associated Press cited the Environmental Protection Agency as
having identified melamine as a contaminant and byproduct of several
pesticides, including cryomazine. People began to question if there
is also pesticide contamination of the wheat gluten. Is there a
possibility of deliberate contamination, or is it the result of gross
mismanagement and lack of effective food-safety and quality controls
that accounts for levels of melamine reported to be as high as 6.6%
by the FDA in samples of the wheat gluten?
A brief internet search quickly reveals that the widely used insect
growth regulator cryomazine is not only made from melamine, but it
also breaks down into melamine after ingestion by an animal. Wheat
gluten is wheat gluten, fit for human consumption, so the question
remains, what was wrong with this gluten that it was only bought for
use in pet food?
On April 3 Associated Press named the US importer as ChemNutra of Las
Vegas, reporting that the company had recalled 873 tons of wheat
gluten that had been shipped to three pet food makers and a single
distributor who in turn supplies the pet food industry.
What of the uncounted number of people whose cats and dogs became
sick, and even died? Several letters that I have received indicate
costs of in the thousands of $ per animal; and what of long-term care
costs for animals suffering from chronic kidney disease?
While Congressional hearings are now being called for by grieving pet
owners, and class action suits put together, this debacle could have
catastrophic consequences not only for conventional agribusiness, of
which the pet food industry is a lucrative subsidiary, but also for
the agricultural biotechnology industry, with its millions of acres
of genetically engineered crops around the world.
I reach this conclusion, until there is evidence to the contrary, for
the following reasons:
1. The wheat gluten imported from China was not for human
consumption, because, I believe, it had been genetically engineered.
The FDA has a wholly cavalier attitude toward feeding animals such
'frankenfoods' but places some restrictions when human consumption is
involved (yet refuses appropriate food labeling).
2. The 'rat poison' aminopterin is used in molecular biology as an
anti-metabolite, folate antagonist, and in genetic engineering
biotechnology as a genetic marker. This could account for its
presence in this imported wheat gluten.
3. The 'plastic', 'wood preservative', contaminant melamine, the
parent chemical for a potent insecticide cyromazine, could well have
been manufactured WITHIN the wheat plants themselves as a genetically
engineered pesticide. This is much like the Bt. insecticidal poison
present in most US commodity crops that go into animal feed.
4. So called 'overexpression' can occur when spliced genes that
synthesize such chemicals become hyperactive inside the plant and
result in potentially toxic plant tissues, lethal not just to meal
worms and other crop pests, but to cats, dogs, birds, butterflies and
other wildlife; and to their creators. (For details, see my book
Killer Foods: What Scientists Do to Make Food Better is Not Always
Best. Lyon's Press, 2004).
How else can one account for samples of pet food containing as much
as 6% melamine? It was surely not mixed in such amounts when the
wheat gluten was being processed, but rather was already in the
wheat, along with the aminopterin genetic marker. My suspicion is
that the FDA was aware that the gluten came from genetically
engineered wheat that was considered safe for animal consumption.
I could be wrong. But a greater wrong is surely for the pet food
industry to use food ingredients and food and beverage industry
by-products considered unfit for human consumption; to continue to do
business without any adequate government oversight and inspection;
and for government to give greater priority to agricultural
biotechnology and the patenting of genetically engineered crops and
animals, and not to organic, humane, ecologically sound and safe food
I believe that there is evidence of gross negligence, not simply on
the part of the pet food industry, but by all who are responsible for
food quality and safety in the global market that is clearly
dysfunctional. The Pet Food Institute should start an emergency fund
to compensate all veterinary expenses incurred as a result of this --
and any future -- mass poisonings of people's beloved animal companions.