Q&A: Pet Food Recall, Finding Better Foods for Cats and Dogs

What happened, and how to protect your pet.

| April/May 2007

Amidst pet food recall news that seems to change and expand by the week, many pet owners are confused and frustrated about what's best to feed their beloved cats and dogs. Phil Brown, a respected veterinarian who also has almost two decades of experience in developing pet foods, most recently helped develop a line of cat and dog foods for Newman's Own Organics. He says it's our charge to feed our animals the best foods we can, and the recent recalls have 'raised people's consciousness of the value of organic and natural foods.'

Q: What's your current understanding of the problem that has caused these recalls?

At this point the thought is that melamine, which is used to make plastics and is a fertilizer in other parts of the world, contaminated wheat gluten which was shipped into the United States and used in some pet foods. It's my understanding that wheat gluten is the only ingredient involved, that's the commonality among all the recalled foods.

Q: Why is wheat gluten used in these foods?

Wheat gluten works as filler. In biscuits it's used to keep them from falling apart; it gives them stability. The wheat has some nutritional value, but wheat gluten is protein and it's primarily used as a filler or binder. The wet foods that were affected were the gravy, chunky-types, and wheat gluten gives them texture.

Q: Last week we saw the first dry food recalled, a cat food — why was wheat gluten used in it?

That's sort of a prescription food for cats with urinary tract infections. The wheat gluten was a source of protein and carbohydrates.

Q: How could the melamine end up in the wheat gluten?

Well, it's used as a fertilizer. I think they must've sprayed it on the wheat and it came over in a shipment from China. I believe they had seen crystals on the wheat gluten.

Q: Is melamine allowed as a fertilizer in the United States?

No, I'm positive it's not.

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