Here You Go, Figure It Out for Yourself, from the FDA Press Conference – Dry Foods May Be A Problem Too, Or Not

            March 30, 2007. The messages seem confused, contradictory to what the Food and Drug Administration has previously stated.

            For starters, aminopterin (the rodenticide previously announced March 23 to be responsible for the tainted food) is no longer being considered by the FDA. Melamine contained in wheat gluten from China is now being targeted as responsible for the deaths and illness of mostly cats, and also dogs.

            Previously the FDA touted clearly, dry foods are safe. While Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the FDA refused to specify names, he now said dry foods may or may not be affected. “We are trying to trace out all the contaminated wheat gluten, the identified source – there are obviously many sources of wheat gluten distributed to pet food companies. We’ve identified one particular supplier of the wheat gluten with melamine. We are aware of the company – and they do produce dry food. We are trying to determine if they did use the product in the dry food. At this point we don’t have any additional information.”

            Later in the press conference, I attempted to pressure Sundlof to elaborate on the potential danger dry food. I indicated numerous anecdotal reports from my readers and listeners telling me they believe their pets have gotten sick as a result of the dry food. Angrily, I simply asked if it is true or not. He began by conceding that “We are hearing from pet owners on dry foods (also).”

            Sundloff continued, “Unlike the human food, there is no CDC (Centers for Disease Control) for animals and normally that would be the responsibility of the CDC to develop criteria for confirmed cases of poisoning. This is very early – it may turn out the dry food wasn’t even used. We need to find out lot numbers, and then need to get the information to the general public.”

            Still another reporter continued to pressure Sundloff, even pointing out that people may be right now, during the press conference, feeding dry food – why can’t they tell us?  Here’s the reply, “We know the public is extremely concerned, as we are, about this issue. We feel it’s better to give information as we know it, and to reassure consumers that their pet food is safe but not giving any false expectations. We’re following every lead we have. My sense is that we have most it under control.”

            As for wheat gluten with the melamine contaminating human food, Sudnloff said, “We are not aware of (contaminated) wheat gluten in human food.”

            Michael Rogers, supervisory consumer safety office at the office regulatory affairs at the FDA pointed out that the agency is initiating a 100 per cent sampling of wheat gluten from China (He did not respond to a reporter’s question about what China’s response to this is).

            I also asked Sundlof about the wildly varying discrepancies of reports between the number pets who have died as a result of the tainted food according to the FDA (under 20 pets) to the figures presented on some websites and in some broadcasts and printed reports, which are into the thousands. There just seems to be such a dramatic difference in the numbers. “We (at the FDA) have not had the luxury of time to confirm the numbers,” he said. Sundlof added that there have been 8,800 calls of from concerned consumers as well as veterinarians. FDA complaint coordinators for all 50 states have answered phone calls.

            More than 100 samples of pet food have been analyzed at the FDA’s field labs, according to Sundlof.

            Dr. Donald Smith, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) spoke primarily at the start of the press conference. It was his lab who confirmed the melamine, after a tip from an unnamed pet food company which was involved in the Menu Foods recall of over 90 brands. That company was actually the first to identify and self-report the contaminant.

            Melamine is not typically toxic when used is such way as to make such items as durable kitchen utensils and pipes, but it’s also used in Asia as a fertilizer (melamine is not approved for use as a fertilizer in the U.S.). High doses of melamine does cause pronounced diuretic affects in rats and dogs, developing unique crystals in the urine, which Smith described. He used illustrations to make his point (which, of course, I did not see by phone). He described the dramatic changes to the distal tubules (small tubes leading off the back of the kidneys) and more changes to the proximal (front) tubules. The spaces around the tubules, he said, had inflammatory cells. As he concluded his presentation, he was quick to add his ‘evidence’ remains, for now, presumptive.

            Smith offered this timeline: March 21, the laboratory in Albany made the initial diagnosis of aminopterin, which was confirmed 36 hours later. He said at Cornell they’ve been unable to find aminopterin. On March 26 and 27, Cornell positively confirmed melamine in the food, specifically in wheat gluten as well as urine in cats, and the kidney of a cat who died in the Menu Foods feeding trial.

            Sundlof said the problem doesn’t seem to the same in Canada or Mexico as for impacting health of dogs and cats. He said there were no reports of illness or deaths in Canada, but did not mention reports of pets affected from Mexico. But he said he’s contact with health authorities from both countries.