According to data released by Banfield, The Pet Hospital, one of the largest chains of veterinary hospitals in the US, nearly 39,000 cats and dogs were sickened or killed nationwide consequent on pet food-contamination with an industrial chemical.
The data was reportedly compiled from records collected from more than 615 veterinary hospitals.
Last month there was massive recall of contaminated pet food. Described as one of the largest in U.S. history, began March 16 when the Menu Foods recalled selected 'cuts and gravy' products made in its Kansas facility in response to reports of kidney failures in cats and dogs. The company has recalled products manufactured from Nov. 8, 2006, to March 6. Several other companies have also issued recalls.
The Food Drugs Administration confirmed about only 15 animal deaths from poisoning. But the agency received more than 12,000 reports of illnesses in the three weeks since the recall — more than twice the number they normally receive in a year.
The recalled pet food was contaminated with melamine, a chemical used to make plastic products, which was found in wheat gluten, an ingredient used to thicken food, the FDA has concluded. The FDA said the tainted wheat gluten had been imported from a company in China.
The FDA is under fire from senators now. They are planning to question its officials on the pet food disaster.
Democratic Senator Richard J. Durbin, a leading advocate of improving food safety, criticized the FDA's response as 'tragically slow.' He said he hoped to learn when the FDA learned of the contamination and who was inspecting pet food plants.
'What we see here is an indication of problems across the board with food safety — both human and pet,' Durbin said Saturday last. 'There are too many agencies, too many laws, too many committee chairmen and too many special interest groups, which results in a piecemeal and splintered approach to food safety.'
Durbin said the Kansas facility where many of the products were made had never been inspected by the FDA.
He wanted the FDA to work with the states to establish a standardized set of regulations and inspection requirements for pet food facilities. 'Each state has it own rules and standards,' he said.
He also said the FDA should take steps to enact rules so that companies that delay reporting problems could face fines.
He said Menu Foods first noticed a potential problem Feb. 20 with dogs getting sick, but waited until March 15 to contact the FDA.
'Three weeks in inexcusable,' he said. 'There is no requirement to report it on a timely basis.'
Officials with Menu Foods have said that they acted promptly to recall the pet food after receiving just a few reports of illness and before the cause was identified, saving the lives of many pets.