Organic Consumers Association

Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy
  • Purple flower
  • asian farmer
  • veggie market
  • african wheat farmer
  • woman harvesting
  • allium
  • 3 lambs
  • apple
  • apple
  • apple vendor
  • apples in basket
  • apples on tree

Largest Pet Food Recall Ever: A Genetic Engineered Food Disaster?

I have received several letters from dog and cat owners thanking me for saving their animals 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 industrys 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. Lyons 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 production.

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 peoples beloved animal companions.

Get Local

Find News and Action for your state: