Will pet food makers be on a shorter leash?

Returned cans of pet food fill a shopping car at a Petco in Miami.

KAI RYSSDAL: Shares of Menu Foods trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol M-E-W. Kind of cute after you learn it's this country's biggest supplier of pet foods. Less attractive, though, after you learn its chief financial officer sold half his shares in the company just before last month's big pet-food recall.

The Food & Drug Administration warned today contaminated pet food is still being found in some stores. In March, Menu recalled 60 million cans and pouches of wet pet food under various brand names. The company expanded its recall of cat food earlier this week. The contamination has been traced to wheat gluten imported from China. And at a congressional hearing today, senators heard calls for more inspections of pet food. Marketplace's John Dimsdale reports.


JOHN DIMSDALE: The FDA says the bad wheat gluten was mixed with an industrial chemical, melamine — which may have been deliberately added as a protein enhancer. Neither pet-food makers nor FDA inspectors had been screening for melamine.

At today's hearing, the FDA's Stephen Sundlof said since the deaths of at least 16 pets, all imports of wheat gluten from China and Europe are now being inspected.

But there's no telling how long that will last. Consider FDA's budget only allowed visits to less than a third of U.S. pet food factories over the past 3-1/2 years.

That didn't satisfy Illinois Senator Richard Durbin.

RICHARD DURBIN: Do you think that's an adequate inspection to protect the quality and wholesomeness and safety of pet food products?

STEPHEN SUNDLOF: Pet food is generally, and in fact traditionally has been a very safe product. This is quite disturbing in this case because this is so unusual, and we're dealing with a substance that we had never encountered before.

With 140 million cats and dogs in this country, pet food is a $14 billion industry.

But University of Tennessee veterinary medicine professor Claudia Kirk says there's no central regulator.

CLAUDIA KIRK: If it were mandatory for manufacturers to immediately report significant adverse events to a centralized regulatory agency, earlier investigative action, product recalls could occur.

A pet food respresentative said his industry has made a major commitment to work with the World Health Organization on international standards for pet food ingredients.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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