Pet Food Recall Expands as Senator Announces Hearings on FDA Investigation

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 6, 2007

The recall of pet foods contaminated by tainted wheat gluten expanded yesterday to 20 additional varieties and Sunshine Mills dry dog biscuits. Sen. Richard J. Durbin announced a congressional hearing on the Food and Drug Administration's investigation, and more than 200 pet owners sued the company that sold the pet food for fraud.

The FDA also said Menu Foods, a major manufacturer of brand- and private-label wet pet foods, expanded its original recall to foods it made since Nov. 6, 2006, a month earlier than previously announced. Its products made after March 6 are safe, the firm said.

Menu Foods, which recalled 60 million pet food cans and pouches on March 16, said in a statement that the 20 new varieties include Science Diet Feline Savory Cuts canned and Grreat Choice wet dog food. The recall list, totaling more than 100 foods, can be found at http://www.fda.gov.

Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who is Senate majority whip, said he would hold an oversight hearing on the FDA's response perhaps as early as next week.

"The system broke down," he said. "It's not just about contaminated food killing pets, it's a system that failed." Menu Foods "felt no sense of urgency" to publicly raise an alarm when it first became aware of a potential problem Feb. 20, Durbin said.

The company's plant in Emporia, Kan., where many of the tainted products were made, had never been inspected by the FDA because the agency relies on states to do inspections, Durbin said. He also said the FDA needs to improve its data collection from veterinarians and communication with consumers.

More than 200 pet owners have joined a lawsuit filed in federal court in northern Illinois against Menu Foods, charging that the firm was negligent and fraudulent when it did not act more quickly upon learning that cats and dogs who ate its products became ill or died.

Lawyers for Blim & Edelson said they are seeking to expand the case into a national class action lawsuit.

At least 16 dogs and cats died as a result of eating the recalled brands, contaminated with melamine, an industrial toxin. But FDA investigators admitted yesterday that the death toll is probably higher, as many pet owners and animal protection groups have been asserting.

The FDA has focused first on finding the cause of the contamination and getting bad pet food off the market rather than trying to determine how many pets have become sick or died, Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine said in a news conference yesterday.

Professional veterinarian groups, animal protection groups and the Banfield Pet Hospitals are working with the agency to compile better statistics, Sundlof said. The FDA has fielded 12,000 complaints in three weeks.

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