Liability cases loom over melamine-tainted pet food

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2007:

EMPORIA, Kansas–“To the extent that we identify that the
cause of any expenses incurred [by pet keepers for veterinary care] are related to the food, Menu will take responsibility,” Menu Foods
chief executive Paul Henderson pledged, after ordering the first of
a flurry of pet food recalls.
But that was just before pet keepers and law firms coast to
coast began alleging in more than two dozen attempted class action
cases that Menu Foods responded too slowly to the crisis, caused by
melamine contamination of pet food ingredients. The contamination
kills dogs and cats–especially cats–by attacking their kidneys.

“There have been media reports that Menu Foods started
getting complaints as early as December 2006, but FDA records state
the company received their first report of a food-related pet death
on February 20,” wrote Christie Keith, contributing editor for the
Universal Press Syndicate feature Pet Connection. “On February 27,
Menu started testing the suspect foods. On March 3, the first cat
in the trial died of acute kidney failure. Three days after that,
Menu switched wheat gluten suppliers, and 10 days later, on March
16, recalled the 91 products that contained gluten from their
previous source. At that point, Menu had seen a 35% death rate in
their test lab cats. Another 45% percent suffered kidney damage.
The death rate for animals in Menu’s tests was around 20%.”
In the interim, alleged Keith, “No veterinarians were
warned to be on the lookout for unusual numbers of kidney failure in
their patients. No pet owners were warned to watch their pets for
symptoms. Thousands of pet owners kept buying [contaminated] foods
for their dogs and cats.
Pet Connection began asking pet keepers to submit reports
about dogs and cats who might have been poisoned by the contaminated
foods. By mid-April the alleged toll included 3,900 dead pets and
12,000 suffering from possibly related illnesses–and this was still
less than half of the number of cases anticipated in a study done by
Banfield Pet Hospitals.
The first round of blame-fixing came at an April 12, 2007
U.S. Senate hearing.
The pet food industry “is highly regulated, but not
effectively regulated,” testified veterinarian Elizabeth Hodgkins.
“We don’t have products that are as safe as the labels suggest.”
“Because only about 30% of pet food plants are inspected
every three years, quality control is based largely on
self-regulation,” wrote Karoun Demirjian of the Chicago Tribune’s
Washington D.C. bureau. “Individual companies are supposed to inform
the FDA when it appears that pet food coming from their plants may
have been compromised,” as Menu Foods did.
The melamine contamination “was a foreign substance,”
responded Pet Food Institute executive director Duane Ekedahl. “All
the regulation in the world would not have captured that substance.”

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