March 28, 2007

C.U. Helps Identify Poison in Pet Food

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Cornell scientists played an integral role in identifying the poison that contaminated Menu Foods’ “cuts and gravy” style pet food. The contamination resulted in the death of at least 16 animals and the recall of 95 of Menu’s cat and dog food brands.

The Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell worked in close collaboration with the New York State Food Laboratory to pinpoint the rat poison Aminopterin as the contaminant.

According to Dan Rice, director of the Food Laboratory, the AHDC sent the samples to the food laboratory for specialized testing, which is not conducted at Cornell’s lab.

“I offer my hearty congratulations to Cornell scientists for their forensic efforts to determine the cause of the problems. National research entities such as the FDA and the USDA were stymied and the Cornell scientists deserve credit for their tremendous efforts to identify it,” said NY State Senator Michael Nozzolio (R-Fayette).

After receiving the samples two weeks ago, the food lab spent a week conducting different types of tests to determine the poison.

“Initially we used a method called LCMSMS. Our initial finding was this particular poison is difficult to pull out of pet food and then to visualize on a mass speck. So we then moved to a different method called HPLC-UV,” Rice said.

Aminopterin can cause renal failure in cats and dogs and can be lethal. According to the Journal News, the concentration found in the samples was at least 40 parts per million, which Rice described as “a fairly high concentration”.

The poison was originally developed in the 1950s to treat cancer patients and was then licensed as a rodenticide before it was determined to be too toxic and subsequently banned by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Although Menu Foods has only confirmed the death of 15 cats and 1 dog, many reports speculate that the number is much higher.

According to the Associated Press, a veterinarians’ web site reported 471 cases of kidney failure in the 10 days following the recall and the site’s founder Paul Pion said that the total might number in the tens of thousands.
Now that the poison has been identified, researchers are working to determine the root of the cause and to discover how the banned poison made its way into Menu Foods plants in New Jersey and Kansas, where the tainted food was manufactured.

“We’re working closely with the FDA, as is Cornell, to break the food down that goes into the ingredients and trace that back to its point of origin,” Rice said.

At this point, the Federal Drug Administration has not confirmed any one cause and scientists are still exploring the possibility of other toxins.

The Journal News reported that Dr. Stephen Sundlof, the FDA’s director of veterinary medicine, did, however, call the wheat gluten used in the manufacturing process a “suspect.”

At least one lawsuit has been filed against Menu Foods, according to the Associated Press. A woman in Chicago is suing the Canadian company for allegedly delaying the announcement of the recall of 60 million pet food containers despite evidence that they might be contaminated.

The success of scientists in identifying Aminopterin is a testament to the teamwork of the state and Cornell centers.

“This is another example of the success of that collaboration which can only be strengthened by the relocation of the NYS Food Laboratory to Geneva,” said Nozzolio.

Nozzolio is in favor of moving the New York State food lab from Albany to the Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park in Geneva.

According to Matt Devane of Senator Nozzolio’s office, the Senate is currently trying to convince Governor Elliot Spitzer to support the move and the issue is being discussed as part of the state budget negotiations. In addition, Nozzolio successfully campaigned to secure $40 million in the state senate’s budget plan. The move will facilitate collaboration between Cornell and state scientists.

Representatives from the AHDC were not available for comment.