Companies Indicted in Pet-Food Recall Case

The Associated Press reported today that a federal grand jury in Kansas City has handed down indictments against two Chinese and one US-based company related to the pet-food contamination recall of last spring. While accurately quantifying the impact of illnessess caused by the melamine-tainted foods is difficult, the U.S. Attorney’s office estimated that some 4,000 dogs and cats died as a result of eating the contaminated foods. Dr. Burns and I were actually at a veterinary conference when news of—and illnesses related to—the contamination struck last year, but my colleagues at the Emergency Animal Clinic tested and treated dozens of pets for kidney disease during this time. Fortunately, the FDA, pet food manufacturers, and the media acted quickly and the primary wave of illness was short lived; by the time of my return from the five-day conference, only a few of the sickest pets remained hospitalized.The indictments in this case allege that two Chinese companies knowingly added melamine to wheat gluten to improve the results of protein tests and meet the requirements of their contract with ChemNutra, a Las Vegas based company owned by a Chinese national and her American husband. The contents of the shipment were also falsely declared to avoid inspection by export officials in China. The US company has been accused of knowingly accepting a shipment that was exported under false pretenses and failing to notify its customers of this fact; prosecutors do not allege that ChemNutra and its owners knew that melamine was toxic.China does not have an extradition agreement with the US, so it’s unlikely that officials with the Chinese companies will ever be brought to trial. However, the recall and the ensuing investigation resulted in the Chinese government closing down one of the companies and instituting additional checks to protect consumers. In addition, it brought the very important subject of pet nutrition to the front pages. A year later, veterinarians still find themselves answering client questions and discussing concerns related to this subject. While the impact of the recall was tragic on the surface, its ultimate legacy will be a pet-owning public that is more aware and more active in choosing the best and most appropriate nutrition for their pets.