Why now? Pet food deaths baffle scientists
Combination of toxins may be 'smoking gun,' but exact cause still unknown
Updated: 10:26 a.m. CT May 3, 2007
North American toxicologists and vets are hot on the trail of killer pet-food contaminants that came to the fore more than a month ago, but the exact cause of the ongoing threat to cats and dogs is still baffling to scientists.
At least 16 animals have died from contaminated pet food related to the problem that has been traced to Chinese suppliers of contaminated wheat gluten and rice protein, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The number of contaminated pet food-related deaths could, however, be much higher â€” the FDA has received unconfirmed reports of approximately 1,950 cat deaths and 2,200 dog deaths since the investigation began.
The mystery already has taken some chemical twists and turns. Tests from a New York State food laboratory pointed to a compound called aminopterin as the culprit in late March, but now the FDA is now focusing on something called melamine.
Melamine can be used as an industrial binding agent, a flame retardant, a component in cooking utensils and plates, a fertilizer and, apparently, a food additive. The products supplied to U.S. pet food manufacturers by the Chinese companies were tainted with melamine, and many think that this was done to boost the food's apparent protein count and thereby boost sales.
Because of its high nitrogen content, melamine resembles a protein.
â€œAnimal food products are really priced on their protein contentâ€”the higher the protein, the more you can charge for it,â€