March 11, 2010

Three years ago, pet food manufacturers began voluntarily recalling more than 100 brands of dog and cat food when owners reported cases of kidney failure in both species after animals ingested products contaminated with melamine.

Multiple state regulatory agencies and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine worked quickly to remove the contaminated products from the shelves to limit the risk of animal injury and death and also to inform consumers of the dangers of feeding their animals the suspect products. These agencies also worked to discover the contamination source by testing collected samples.

“Once the usual suspects, such as ethylene glycol (antifreeze) poisoning, toxic metals and mycotoxins were eliminated, researchers discovered that wheat gluten, a common ingredient used in pet foods as a thickening agent for “gravies,” was contaminated with melamine,” said Meagan Davis with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture’s Division of Regulatory Services Feed Program. “Though there is little known research on the effect melamine in dogs and cats, the levels found proved to be the cause of illness in the animals.”

Davis said the contaminated wheat gluten was traced back through a U.S. distributor to a supplier in China. At that point, all wheat gluten imported from China was sampled and analyzed for contamination. Though the confirmed number of official deaths due to melamine contamination remained low, the FDA recognized there may have been more associated animal illnesses and deaths than reported, she explained. As a result, the FDA continues to perform research with affected tissue samples to understand how melamine contributed to the poor health and death of dogs and cats.

“The focus on the safety of animal feed has become increasingly important since the melamine recall,” Davis said. “Food safety legislation, ingredient and processing standards and means of reporting adverse effects are currently being implemented or awaiting review prior to implementation.”

In September 2007, the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act was signed into law. Title X of the document specifically addresses food safety. Feed is considered food. Title X also states that future regulations will include ingredient standards and definitions, processing standards and labeling standards—some of which already are drafted and currently under review.

In November 2007, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine signed a memorandum of understanding with the Association of American Feed Control Officials that allows the FDA to formally recognize the association’s list of feed ingredients found in its annual official publication. Feed control officials reviewed this published list of ingredients and deemed them suitable for use in animal feeds. Though the publication is not a regulatory document, it is the most complete and recognizable list of feed ingredients. The Center for Veterinary Medicine’s formal recognition of the feed ingredient definitions in the publication further ensures a long-standing relationship and a shared common goal to improve food safety.

“Though the Animal Feed Safety System has been under construction since 2003, the FDA has been working rigorously to finalize AFSS documents,” Davis said. “The modernized AFSS will incorporate risk-based, preventative control measures for ensuring the safety of animal feeds. Though the framework document is not finalized, regulatory officials are waiting for the roll out of this new system to determine how it will affect the feed industry and the regulations of which it is subject.”

The melamine pet food recall further stressed the importance of feed safety. Food safety legislation is a primary focus of the FDA. As feed is food, the feed industry can expect a multitude of changes in the future, Davis added.

Documentation concerning these changes is available on the FDA’s Web site: http://www.fda.gov/food/foodsafety/foodsafetyprograms/rfr/default.htm

If you have any questions, please contact an area inspector or a member of the Feed Program of the UK Division of Regulatory Services. 

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