WASHINGTON - Government testing of recalled pet food linked to dog and cat deaths has found a chemical used to make plastics, officials said Friday.
The Food and Drug Administration said it found melamine in samples of the Menu Foods pet food, as well as in wheat gluten used as an ingredient. Cornell University scientists also have found the chemical, also used as a fertilizer, in the urine and kidney of a sick cat.
Menu Foods recalled 60 million containers of cat and dog food earlier this month after animals died of kidney failure after eating the Canadian company's products. It is not clear how many pets may have been poisoned by the apparently contaminated food, although anecdotal reports suggest hundreds if not thousands have died.
The new finding comes a week after scientists at the New York State Food Laboratory identified a rat poison and cancer drug called aminopterin as the likely culprit. They have since detected melamine as well, although it is not clear how that chemical would have poisoned pets.
New York officials have detected melamine as well, though it's not clear how that chemical would have poisoned pets. It's typically used to produce plastic kitchen wares, though it's apparently used as a fertilizer in Asia, said Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.
The recall involved nearly 100 brands of "cuts and gravy" style dog and cat food made by Menu Foods. The recall covered products carrying names of major brand-name and private-label products sold throughout North America.
The apparently melamine-contaminated wheat gluten also was shipped to an unnamed company that manufactures dry pet food. The FDA is attempting to determine if that product, imported from China, was used to make any pet food, Sundlof said.
Menu Foods used wheat gluten, a source of vegetable protein, to thicken the gravy of its pet foods, FDA officials have said.
The FDA alone has received more than 8,000 complaints from consumers and veterinarians.