The news could cast at least a temporary pall over the bigger dry segment of the $10 billion pet-food industry that so far hadn't been directly affected. Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, promised this morning to determine "very quickly" whether more pet food needs to be recalled, but he didn't give a time line.
He said it's not certain whether any dry pet food using the suspect wheat gluten has been produced or is currently in stores, and he declined to name the manufacturer involved pending outcome of the investigation. But he acknowledged that at least some of the more than 8,000 reports the FDA has received of pets sickened by pet food came from owners who fed their pets dry food.
The FDA hasn't been able to confirm last week's findings by New York state agriculture researchers that rat poison was the source of contamination in the Chinese wheat gluten used in the recalled pet food. But researchers have found the substance melamine in some of the food, in some of the wheat gluten used in the food and in the kidneys and urine of one animal that died in Menu Foods' early-March "taste test" of its products.
Melamine is used in fertilizer in much of Asia as well as in numerous consumer products, such as kitchen utensils and Procter & Gamble Co.'s Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.
Unclear how it got in food
"Melamine is not an ingredient that should be in pet food at any level," said Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. "However ... we are not fully yet certain melamine is the cause of ... death in pets. ... At this point, we don't know how the melamine got into the wheat."
The website PetConnection.com reported last week it had received more than 2,000 reports of pets killed by food affected by the recall, but the FDA still confirms only 20 deaths linked to the recalled food pending follow-up research by field staff.
Menu Foods issued a recall March 16 of more than 90 brands of wet pet food following consumer reports of pet deaths that began Feb. 20 and deaths of pets in its own taste tests starting March 2. The recall included some private-label wet-food items sold by major retailers and such brands as P&G's Iams and Eukanuba, Nestle Purina's Mighty Dog, and Colgate-Palmolive Co.'s Hill's Sicence Diet.
Gene Grabowski, senior VP of Levick Strategic Communications, a crisis-management firm retained by the pet-food industry, said talk of a second pet-food manufacturer possibly using the wheat "probably will not be a major factor," because "the FDA does not see enough reason for a recall. ... They're running down every possible lead and doing their due diligence."