20 April 2007

South Africa: No More Chinese Take-Aways for SA Pets

Johannesburg — THE South African pet food industry has closed the door on the importation of gluten products from China after tests of Royal Canin SA's products found that the ingredient was contaminated with melamine.

Royal Canin SA last week recalled dry dog food after several dogs fell ill with renal problems caused by melamine.

Royal Canin SA MD Gregory Watine said yesterday tests had indicated that corn gluten, used in the production of dog and cat dry pet food products manufactured by Vets Choice and Royal Canin, had been contaminated with melamine. The corn gluten was imported from China.

The chairman of the industry body, the Pet Food Institute, Barry Hundley, said the contamination served as a warning to manufacturers against using products from China. They would have to impose vigorous tests on ingredients imported from China.

South African Veterinary Association president Dr Gerhard Steenkamp said the presence of melamine in pet food was first noted in the US last month. "The sad thing is that we are learning as we go along," he said. There were no studies conducted on the long-term effects of such toxicity.

Agriculture department spokeswoman Priscilla Tsotso Sehoole said the department would investigate whether proper protocols were followed by Royal Canin when it imported ingredients.

Gluten, which is in short supply locally, is a source of protein and has been used in animal food for several years.

Watine said the company, which has produced pet food for the past 40 years, would take responsibility, on a case-by-case basis, for costs incurred by owners whose dogs fell ill or died. So far, 30 dogs have died.

"Should our food be involved, we will compensate for the death of the dog ... we will take full responsibility on expenses."

Royal Canin, which sold its locally made pet food in SA and Namibia, found no traces of ethanol-glycol, which had been found in pet food recalled by Woolworths in February.

Hill's Pet Nutrition last week also recalled a batch of cat food intended for consumption by diabetic cats.

The company recalled its Prescription Diet m/d Feline dry food from the US and export markets, including SA, as a precaution after wheat gluten used in manufacturing the product was found to be contaminated with melamine.

Watine said the company had no idea how widespread the problem was internationally, but the US Food and Drug Administration had reportedly blocked the import of wheat gluten from a Chinese supplier, pending the completion of its investigation.

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