By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 1, 2007
The recall of contaminated pet food expanded as stores removed from their shelves a limited number of cans of Alpo dog food, the latest high-profile brand to be caught up in the investigation of what has sickened or killed an unknown number of cats and dogs.
Nestle Purina PetCare Co., which manufactures the 71-year-old brand, announced Friday that it was voluntarily recalling all sizes and varieties of Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy wet dog food that are marked with specific date codes. The company acted after learning that wheat gluten containing melamine -- a toxin suspected of causing the pet illnesses -- had contaminated cans at one of Purina's 17 pet-food manufacturing facilities.
Company officials emphasized that the contaminant affected a "limited production quantity" and that Alpo products are safe. "We're very confident that we've isolated this problem," said Keith Schopp, a spokesman for Nestle Purina. "This is just one canned variety of Alpo, and it's one of many varieties of Alpo canned products. No dry products are involved. No cat products are involved."
Washington area animal hospitals said the announcement added to anxiety over the recalls that have transfixed pet owners nationwide the past two weeks. The Food and Drug Administration has received more than 8,000 calls about ill pets, although it hasn't confirmed more than 14 or 15 deaths. Pet owners and veterinarians in the United States and Canada are reporting higher numbers.
"This raises it to another level," said Carole Foster, a veterinarian at Metropolitan Emergency Animal Clinic in Rockville. "Purina is probably the best-known distributor of animal foods in the country.''
Two weeks ago, Menu Foods recalled 60 million cans and pouches of "cuts and gravy"-style moist dog and cat food produced at its plant in Emporia, Kan., between Dec. 3 and March 6. It has since affected such national brands as Procter & Gamble's Iams and Eukanuba, Nestle SA's Purina Mighty Dog and others, including some sold at Wal-Mart and Safeway.
On Friday, the FDA's investigation expanded to a dry pet food maker, as Hill's Pet Nutrition voluntarily recalled one variety of its dry cat food: Prescription Diet m/d Feline.
Federal officials initially suspected a chemical used in rat poison as the culprit but said Friday that melamine had been found in pet food samples, in imported wheat gluten and in the urine and tissue of ill pets. Melamine is used in fertilizer in Asia and in plastic products but is not registered as a fertilizer in the United States.
The recalled 13.2-ounce and 22-ounce Alpo Prime Cuts cans and 6-, 8-, 12- and 24-can Alpo Prime Cuts Variety Packs have four-digit code dates of 7037 through 7053, followed by the plant code 1159, Nestle Purina said. The company said the code information should be checked on the bottom of the can and the top or side of the multi-pack cartons.
Petco stores in the Washington area and elsewhere pulled all the affected Alpo products from their shelves "without regard to the production dates that Purina is advising," spokesman Kevin Whalen said. "Looking at production codes and that type of thing -- we have found that to be confusing for consumers."