Update: Hot off the Press:


Melamine Alone Isn’t Responsible, and Senator Dick Durbin’s Proposal to Upgrade the Nation’s Food Supply System

A more detailed column on all this to appear within 24 hours which will include comments from Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill), Dr. Brent Hoff and others. . .  but I wanted to get at least the bullet points out as soon as possible –  – –

Melamine (the tainted substance identified in pet foods) doesn’t belong there, for sure! But it should not be killing our pets. So why were some dying? What many have worked on for some time is figuring out what was really going on with melamine which arrived from China in conjunction with wheat gluten and later discovered, rice protein. Turns out, according to Dr. Brent Hoff, clinical pathologist at Guelph in Ontario cyanuric acid (used in swimming pills) has also been found in these same foods presumably to ‘increase’ nitrogen levels and therefore boost protein. It’s the interaction of the melamine with the cyanuric acid that was causing the problem in some pets.

Hoff’s other points affirm what I and others have reported, but he’s done additional work to confirm the following:

  • Agreed cats are far more impacted than dogs, and also sick or otherwise ill pets have been more susceptible than healthy animals Puppies and kittens have also been at increased risk.
  • When rushed to a vet soon, these pets affected by tainted food recovered faster and better than typical acute renal failure cases. The response to eating tainted food has been called ‘acute renal failure’ because there are many similarities to acute renal failure. But there are too many difference; it turns out this isn’t exactly really acute renal failure. The good news is that once recovered (unlike classic acute renal failure), Hoff doesn’t expect these affected animals to have permanent kidney damage.
  • Happily, it seems likely rather than thousands, hundreds of pets (in America) may have died. Certainly no pet dying needlessly is good news. But it is good news if the numbers, as Hoff and many other maintain, are lower than reports elsewhere.


Senator Durbin and I spoke privately before the press conference to introduce a bill for increased safety for human and pet foods. Senator Durbin wants:

  • The FDA to have authority to call for mandatory recalls; currently the FDA doesn’t actually have the authority to do that.
  • Establishing an early warning and notification system that is better than what the FDA currently has. He suggested establishing a specific website for this purpose to work with professional organizations, including the AVMA. I suggested even more veterinary input and pointed out how well and responsibly the AVMA has responded. I also suggested a 24/7, 365 day-a-year toll free phone line since not everyone has Internet service. So aside from using your mouse, citizens can use their phones to determine which products are recalled (pet for human foods) at any given time.

Also people assumed, if the product is on the shelves it must not be recalled. Not necessarily an accurate assumption. My idea, which I suggested to Sen. Durbin, is to mandate retailers either pull items in reasonable time, if they’re recalled. And as a full-proof double check method, create a way where scanners at check out can not scan a recalled food item (pet food or human food). Durbin though the idea sounded “reasonable.” 

  • Establishing uniform Federal standards and better labeling of pet foods. Currently, the guidelines and practices for the pet food industry are voluntary, and vary from state to state. Durbin wants one set of reasonable guidelines.
  • Improving the FDA’s ability to regulate imported food products: While we don’t know exactly why the melamine or cyanuric acid was added to pet foods, clearly these elements should never be in pet foods. And, according to Durbin, these substances could have just easily made it’s ways into human foods. This section part of the larger bill would mandate the creation of a data base of pet food contaminants that would be filled in by FDA inspectors as well as importers of food, so that they could be tracked. It would also establish penalties for false reporting.
  • Requiring companies to maintain records and make them accessible to the FDA as a part of an investigation. This provision would prevent delays that could keep contaminations from being traced quickly. In the case of the recalled peanut butter this past winter, an FDA report showed that inspectors were denied documents when they requested them.