Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cats, Canaries and Homeland security

Legend has it miners of old brought canaries with them. If the canary died the air was tainted. Homeland security must be having a lot of late nights now ... (emphases mine)
Rat Poison Found in Tainted Pet Food | World Latest | Guardian Unlimited

... The substance in the food was identified as aminopterin, a cancer drug that once was used to induce abortions in the United States and is still used to kill rats in some other countries, state Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker said.

The federal government prohibits using aminopterin for killing rodents in the U.S. State officials would not speculate on how the poison got into the pet food, but said no criminal investigations had been launched...

... The Food and Drug Administration has said the investigation into the pet deaths was focused on wheat gluten in the food. The gluten itself would not cause kidney failure, but it could have been contaminated, the FDA said.

Paul Henderson, chief executive of Menu Foods, confirmed Friday that the wheat gluten was purchased from China.

Bob Rosenberg, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association, said it would be unusual for the wheat to be tainted.

``It would make no sense to spray a crop itself with rodenticide,'' Rosenberg said, adding that grain shippers typically put bait stations around the perimeter of their storage facilities.

Scientists at the New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell University and at the New York State Food Laboratory tested three cat food samples provided by the manufacturer and found aminopterin in two of them. The two labs are part of a network created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to keep the nation's animals and food supply safe.

``Any amount of this product is too much in food,'' Hooker said.

Aminopterin is highly toxic in high doses. It inhibits the growth of malignant cells and suppresses the immune system. In dogs and cats, the amount of aminopterin found - 40 parts per million - can cause kidney failure, according to Bruce Akey, director of Cornell's diagnostic center.

``It's there in substantial amounts,'' Akey said.

Donald Smith, dean of Cornell's veterinary school, said he expected the number of pet deaths to increase. ``Based on what we've heard the last couple days, 16 is a low number,'' Smith said.

Aminopterin is no longer marketed as a cancer drug, but is still used in research, said Andre Rosowsky, a chemist with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Rosowsky speculated that the substance would not show up in pet food ``unless somebody put it there.''

Henderson said Menu Foods does not believe the food was tampered with because the recalled food came from two different plants, one in Kansas, one in New Jersey. Menu continues to produce food at the two plants.
I'm reading varying reports of how much of Menu Food's gluten is imported from China. Reports range from "some" to "all". Aminopterin is used in China, but not in North America. Another report says that Menu Foods has been looking for a toxin since February, but reference labs couldn't find anything. Even the U of Minnesota vet lab has been consulted, though I don't know when.

When Menu Foods says the "the food" was not tampered with, they mean the poison was introduced by a common ingredient supplier before it reached them.

If this was an industrial accident, then those cats and dogs in dying may yet save thousands and millions of lives by awakening our dysfunctional government. Now that the GOP no longer rules Congress, there's yet a chance the legislature will enact long delayed reforms. If this was a deliberate poisoning ...

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