Pet Food Recall: Company Pleads Guilty, But Penalties Are Minimal

The recall of pet food that occurred in the spring of 2007 was finally brought to a close by a recent court decision that has received very little attention from the media.

After receiving 13 shipments of wheat gluten from China between November 2006 and February 2007, the Las Vegas-based company ChemNutra, its owners Stephen and Sally Miller, and two Chinese companies reached a plea agreement in which they pleaded guilty to selling contaminated ingredients to pet food manufacturers. They did this after receiving the wheat gluten in question from China.

They had been charged with one felony count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and had been indicted on 13 counts of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce, 13 counts of introducing misbranded food into interstate commerce, and 13 counts of introducing misbranded food into interstate commerce in February of 2008.

Menu Foods was one of the companies that was found to have a long list of contaminated pet foods on their shelves. Throughout the spring of 2007, new food items from a variety of well-known brands were added on a daily basis.

The recall of pet food should have served as a wake-up call to pet owners with regard to the foods that are being marketed to their pets. Cats and dogs developed symptoms of kidney failure as a result of a toxic combination of melamine and cyanuric acid that was discovered in shipments of wheat gluten. Wheat gluten is a common ingredient in many different brands of pet food. Melamine was added in order to increase the amount of protein that was found in the wheat gluten.

The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) found that due to their smaller size, cats had a significantly higher risk of being affected by the disease than dogs did. The American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians conducted a survey of 235 cases of kidney failure in pets caused by poisoning from pet food between April and June of 2007. The JAVMA cited this survey, which found that 143 cats died and 92 survived, while 83 dogs died and 29 survived. To date, the United States Food and Drug Administration has received approximately 8,000 formal complaints (FDA).

During the period of time that the recall was in effect, Banfield, which operates more than 615 clinics, reported a 30 percent increase in the number of cats that were brought in for treatment of kidney failure.

A cash settlement in the amount of $24 million has been established as part of a Pet Food Products Liability Settlement (, which was established in order to address the costs and concerns of pet owners whose pets were affected by the recall. Under the terms of this settlement, eligible consumers and/or pet owners may receive a cash payment for up to one hundred percent of all documented damages related to the consumption of the recalled pet foods. Nevertheless, as of the 28th of May, 2009, payments are unable to be made on claims that are eligible until all appeals have been resolved. An Appellate Court has not yet made a decision on the case.

In the end, ChemNutra only received a slap on the wrist for their actions.

In spite of the fact that they were facing a total of 27 charges, on June 16 the Miller family and ChemNutra pleaded guilty to just two counts, both of which are classified as misdemeanors: one count of selling adulterated food and one count of selling misbranded food. They have not been sentenced yet, but they face the possibility of spending up to two years in federal prison without the possibility of parole, paying a fine of up to $200,000, and making restitution; their company also faces the possibility of being fined up to $400,000 and making restitution. However, a deal is currently being worked out in which the punishment could be reduced to probation and a fine.

The canine and feline survivors of melamine poisoning are at risk of having their lives cut short by CRF. Their treatment involves the use of special diets, fluids administered subcutaneously, and supplements, in addition to increased awareness on the part of their owners regarding the ingredients that go into the food that they feed their pets.

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