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NY state lab doing further testing of tainted pet food

Mar 26, 2007 | AP

The laboratory that last week identified the poison believed to be responsible for the death of pets around the country has started testing individual components of the tainted pet food, officials said Monday.

Scientists at the New York State Food Laboratory on Friday identified aminopterin as the likely culprit in a poisoning scare that prompted the recall of 95 brands of "cuts and gravy" style dog and cat food.

Department of Agriculture and Markets spokeswoman Jessica Chittenden did not know when the lab would have results from the newest round of tests.

Scientists so far have offered no theories on how aminopterin got into the products of Menu Foods, which makes pet food for most of North America's top retailers. Aminopterin, a derivative of folic acid, can cause cancer and birth defects in humans and can cause kidney damage in dogs and cats. Its use as a rodent poison is banned in the United States.

Some pets that ate the food suffered kidney failure, and the company has confirmed the deaths of 15 cats and two dogs. The FDA has reported more than 4,400 calls from concerned pet owners.

Dr. Donald Smith, dean of Cornell University's veterinary school, which is also conducting test on the food, said his office has received many calls from pet owners.

"Just like all veterinarians, we're being inundated with calls about sick and affected animals," he said.

Smith said the tests of the individual food components being done at the state lab, Cornell and other laboratories would likely take days.

"It's a very challenging set of procedures," he said. "We have to keep in mind there are other things out there that could potentially be hazardous. We are working very hard to confirm it was aminopterin."

The FDA has said the investigation into the pet deaths was focused on wheat gluten. Stephen Sundlof, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's top veterinarian, said Friday it remains the suspected source of the contamination.

Ontario, Canada-based Menu Foods has confirmed that the wheat gluten was purchased from China.

The company recalled products packaged from Dec. 3 to March 6 but advised retailers last week to remove all the products from their shelves to verify the dates they were packaged, but products not made between those dates can still be sold.

FBI spokesman Stephen Kodak said the agency is "not involved in any way, shape, or form."

He added that the FBI would likely only get involved if evidence pointed to the products being tampered with while on store shelves.

Chittenden said any criminal investigation into the matter would have to be initiated by the FDA.

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