Saturday, March 24, 2007

The latest news from the American Food and Drug Administration, and scientists at the New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Center, along with the New York State Food Laboratory, is that the toxic component in the pet foods from Menu Foods that have killed several animals in the USA and Canada is a compound known as aminopterin. So far the deaths of 15 cats and two dogs have been confirmed by the company. Readers interested in following the continuing story should consult the FDA and Diagnostic Center websites rather than depending solely on the mass media. The FDA site contains statements from Nestle Purina, Hill's Pet Nutrition and P&G Pet Care (owners of the Iams and Eukanuba lines). P&G stands for Procter and Gamble. Amazing how integrated a lot of this stuff is. The Diagnostic Center site contains recommendations for both the pet owning public and the veterinary community. In the case of the former it tells you what to look out for as well as a general overview of renal failure. For veterinarians the Cornell site gives advise on diagnostic procedures. Other good places to follow the developing story include the Animal Medical Center of NYC, and the Pet Connection unofficial pet death registry . Both these sites give a story that says that the number of cat and dog deaths is much higher than has been so far admitted by the company. The latter lists 1,459 possible cases at the time Molly visited their website. The numbers climb by the hour.
Aminopterin is a 4-amino analog of folic acid and a synthetic derivative of the natural product pterin. It inhibits the enzyme dihydrofolate reductase by competing with folate for the binding site blocking tetrahydrofolate synthesis. by doing this it interferes with DNA, RNA and protein synthesis. At one time aminopterin was used as an abortifactant and later as a chemotherapy agent in cancer treatment. The first use went out of favour because of an association with birth defects such as neural tube defects. In chemotherapy its use was replaced by that of methotrexate, less potent but also less toxic. The LD 50 of aminopterin in rats is 2.5 mg/kg. Aminopterin is only used as a research drug in North America today where it is being re-investigated for use in leukemia. It is, however, used as a rodenticide (rat poison) in other countries such as China. Most information on treatment of aminopterin ingestion is rather old as the drug hasn't been in common use in Canada or the USA for some time. First aid recommendations include administration of activated charcoal or saline cathartic. Sorbitol has also been suggested to promote excretion. The use of 30 mg of folate daily(in rats- obviously higher doses for other animals) has been suggested as an antidote for recent aminopterin ingestion. All of this is probably futile where renal failure has already occurred.
The probable source of the contamination, according to the latest news, is wheat gluten imported from China. This product is made by washing dough made with wheat flour with water until the starch is rinsed away. The product was originally developed in China where it is known as "seitan" (pronounced SAY-tahn). It is an alternative to soy products such as tofu (ICCCH- Molly) because of its texture which more closely resembles that of meat. Its original use was as a meat substitute for Chinese vegetarians such as some Buddhists. The texture is probably why it was initially considered as an additive in pet foods. For its use in pet foods Molly advises that the reader consult the Royal Canin article on the matter at . Gluten is actually a highly digestible source of protein even for animals such as cats. Where the use of this product has previously been associated with problems in animals it has generally been in association with Irish Setters who have an intolerance (NOT allergy !!) to gliadin found in wheat, barley, oats, etc.. This is somewhat similar to celiac sprue in humans. (Molly note: Molly has occasionally come across animals who seem to have a similar problem, though I must admit that they have never been fully diagnosed, ie a "gluten intolerance". They are very occasional, never Irish setters-Molly sees very few of those- and often require the owners "cooking for the pet". Quite OK if you like the cat or dog enough and have the time. Some people do indeed love their pets enough). Wheat gluten is actually an excellent source, perhaps the best, of the amino acid glutamine.
Gluten is actually very much underproduced in North America - for those who are wondering why a wheat product is being imported from China. There are presently only three major US producers of gluten, MGP Ingredients of Kansas, Manildra, also of Kansas, and Archer Daniels of Illinois. Over 50% of the US supply of gluten is actually imported, some from China but also some quantities from the EU. MGP Ingredients has stated that they have done business with Menu Foods in the past, but that it has been 18 months since they made any shipments as they have curtailed production in the last two years due to inability to compete with cheaper imports. The company has also moved increasingly into the biofuels industry in the recent past.
MOLLY ASIDE: The ethanol industry has been implicated in a number of problems recently of which the rising cost of basic foodstuffs in Mexico and other Central American countries is the most prominent. There is considerable dispute about whether ethanol production is energy efficient without government subsidy, let alone whether it is "carbon efficient". The general principle would be, in Molly's opinion, that government subsidies that distort the market should be withheld if at all possible and that the most desirable form of ethanol production would be localized and small scale. Several initiatives are underway here in Manitoba around the latter matter. The growth of "biofuels" in popularity has raised commodity prices considerably in the past few years, something that can easily be applauded from a farming perspective but may have other, wider implications. The pet food problem may be one of them, though it pales in importance to the cost of corn in Mexico where corn is the food of the poor. While sugar cane is the primary feedstock in Brazil's highly successful biofuels initiative corn is the basic ingredient of the American program. What this means in terms of prices can be seen from what Molly has gleaned from a comparison of commodity prices at one brokerage firm here in Canada. The price of corn has risen from a final average in 2004/2005 of 101.73 (prices in Can $ per tonne) to the present price of 183.13 as of March 16th, 2007. Because of this effect the price of feed wheat has risen in tandem from 103.09 to 181.00 as acreage is diverted to corn production in the USA. The price of human consumption grade wheat such as # 1 of various varieties has risen nowhere near as dramatically, and prices of such have been such that Chinese competition can overtake the American and Canadian supplies for speciality products such as gluten. Most of China's wheat is produced on the North China Plain in three provinces, Henan, Shandong and Hebei where it is often dependent on irrigation for successful crops. Premium prices are paid in China for high gluten wheat, and government policy has been successful in lowering China's dependence on imported wheat, though less so in establishing reliable grading systems. anyways, back to the main thread...
Aminopterin is used as a rodenticide in China. China is a major exporter of gluten to other East Asian countries such as Japan and Vietnam. Before the recent increase in wheat prices gluten was only available in North America in Asian food markets, health foods stores and other outlets that catered to cults diets. It has been popular, despite the prevalence of celiac sprue, in cult diets such as macrobiotics and has been a common ingredient in vegetarian fare served at "fashion food" restaurants in various countries.
Final Molly Note: Molly would not be surprised if human cases were diagnosed in the near future amongst that segment of the population given to food faddism. It's possible that various agencies are looking as we speak. Keep tuned for this.


opit said...

I've posted a link in my Blogroll column to The Ergosphere - a blog currently in hiatus - which has rather overwhelming technical assessments on biomass viability as a substitute for an oil based economy. The link goes to Nov. I think one of the very last posts was corn/ethanol efficiency ( that last word is a joke ).

mollymew said...

Perhaps it is. As I said the "ethanol economy" promoted in the USA has much to be said against it. Molly has wanted to post something on this for some time, but other matters have intervened. I want to post something that has some credibility rather than something "off the top of my head", and that requires a little research.
Can you post other links on this matter to add to people's information?

Anonymous said...


mollymew said...

Holy Fucking Jesus. I don't know what to suggest. I'm a veterinarian myself and fully acquainted with how you feel towards your cat. All that I can suggest is that you look over the recommendations from Cornell University and make this apparent to your vet as to the recommendations. I would also suggest trying a "miracle cure" with folate, though I have little faith that this will work. Suggest this to your veterinarian, but I would remind you that kidney damage once done is permanent.
Should your cat die I encourage you to contribute your story to the Pet Connections site that I mentioned above for the protection of others (and as I said potentially the protection of humans). If you wish join one of the class action lawsuits that have been launched in Ontario. If your cat survives DEFINITELY apply to Menu Foods for compensation for your expenses. Do it if your cat dies as well !!!
I extend my sympathy to you and your pet. The veterinary community is trying to "catch up" on this matter as best we can. It's something totally new to us, and I extend my sympathy to your veterinarian as well. It's something he or she has never seen before and hopefully will never see again before they retire. All my own cats are cheering for your pet.
Molly AND Benny,Freddy, O'Malley and Boston.

roustabout said...

Hi --

Glad to have run across your site. I found it when I was asking myself "is 40 ppm aminopterin enough to explain the toxicity?"

What I had not understood until this morning is the relationship between ppm and mass. It's much simpler than I'd expected - I'd been thinking ppm was going to be molecules/million molecules and that molecular mass was going to be an issue.

Trying that calculation was difficult enough that I looked for an online conversion, and learned that ppm is an SI unit, and it doesn't include a molecular mass conversion. Most of the time, ppm and mg/kg (1/1000 of a gram per 1000 gram) converts directly to grams per kilogram. So 40 ppm aminopterin means 40 grams aminopterin per kilo of pet food, or roughly 4 grams per 4 ounces of wet food.

With an ld 50 of 2.5 mg/kg body weight, that level of aminopterin is going to be hazardous over long exposure times but not immediately deadly, which fits well with what I've read about the pattern of exposure in this case.

You're spot-on that there are going to be some people who've been exposed as well, though fortunately for humans, our mass is so much larger in comparison to the volumes of wheat gluten in the food which most of us eat that the relative doses are probably going to be much larger.

I was also interested in the conversation about alternative fuels that started as a side thread, enough so that I took a whack at reading the long essay on trying to use charcoal as a capture method for CO2 and as a replacement base for much of the petroleum economy.

I will need to reread it and think about it; it didn't immediately ring a bell as workable, in large part because it was such a new idea, I admit, but in part because it requires faith in using algae as a biodiesel source. The idea of using algae in this way is interesting but unproven, and it is a way of preserving internal combustion engines and popularizing biodiesel globally. This means that conventional fossil sources (with huge inefficiency and CO2 release) are kept on stream, and also encourages lots of biodiesel sources.

That latter is a concern because there's already an incredibly destructive way of doing biodiesel on the cheap. Indonesia, for instance, sees a future involving mass monocropping of date palm for date palm oil for biodiesel. that process has all or more of the ineffficiency associated with ethanol, and has the added negative side effect of replacing habitat with monoculture.

I think there are some thermodynamic issues in play that we just don't have a good way to tackle. A gallon of gas where I live and a gallon of milk where I live cost roughly the same amount.

If I need to push my car the thirteen miles to the office, how many gallons of milk do I need to drink to have the calories to do that? And how long - absent the engine working - would it take me using my self as the power source to get there?

If fuel cost what it ought, I'd be living closer and not often pushing my car - I'd be pushing a bicycle and avoiding the waste of dragging a ton of steel around with me wherever I went!

Keeping biodiesel on the table encourages people to keep spending energy to move a ton or more of steel with them whenever they decide to. And you're going to be releasing the CO2 tied to an engine for doing that.

I'd really like to see more work done on algal sources of hydrogen; hydrogen's the only combustion source I know of that doesn't add greenhouse pollutants. Unfortunately, generating hydrogen in quantity or separating it from atmospheric gas are both very energy-intensive processes at the present time.

George Monbiot has written some fine essays on biodiesel. I'm currently looking more into a very interesting contention he cites:

In 2003, the biologist Jeffrey Dukes calculated that the fossil fuels we burn in one year were made from organic matter “containing 44×10 to the 18 grams of carbon, which is more than 400 times the net primary productivity of the planet’s current biota.”(1) In plain English, this means that every year we use four centuries’ worth of plants and animals.

The paper was published and the quote is from the abstract; I'm looking around to see what others think of the work.

There is also of course the issue of timescales and impact on food cost. by timescales, I mean that there two concerns: the longer we wait, assuming stable conditions, the more expensive it will be to begin remediating greenhouse gas levels and the longer the process will take, with the associated social costs (coastal and island state flooding, relocation of agricultural zones, etc.) Second, the longer we wait, the greater the chance of a discontinuity in pattern - release of stored greenhouse gases from ocean beds or from melting permafrost leapfrogging ahead of human greenhouse gas input and moving the ecosystem into a spiraling positive feedback loop no longer dominated by inputs we can try to remediate.

A more recent Monbiot column addresses a range of subjects, and touches on those two:

Baker's Bunny said...

This is a very alarming discovery as Manildra and others import gluten from China not only for pet food consumption but for bread production. This has not been picked up by the Australian Press. Is this the power of John Howards mate Dick Honan owner of Manildra?