Feb 25 High levels of a dangerous toxin found in
bagged dog food on a grocery store shelf in Iowa have
highlighted the prevalence of a problematic mold in last year's
U.S. corn crop, as state and federal officials work on limiting
the food safety concern.
"Last year's corn crop - it is a huge issue. We test every
load coming in. And we reject a lot of loads," said Michael
Wright, chief executive officer of Pro-Pet, an Ohio-based pet
food manufacturer that learned last week some of its product was
tainted with aflatoxin, a naturally occurring poison that can
cause serious illness or even death if consumed.
Aflatoxin is the byproduct of a mold that flourishes in dry
conditions, and last year's historic drought in the U.S. Midwest
put everyone from farmers to grain handlers and food industry
officials on high alert.
"Anybody using corn has to be very selective," Wright said.
The problem hit home for the Hy-Vee Inc grocery chain when
the company announced late Friday that it was recalling five
different product lines of its privately branded dog food. The
products, all manufactured by a Kansas City, Kansas, Pro-Pet
plant, were recalled across eight Midwestern states due to
elevated levels of the aflatoxin contaminant contained in the
corn used to make the pet food, the company said.
Corn is a common ingredient for a range of pet foods and is
a key feed grain for dairy and beef cattle, hogs, and chickens,
as well as a range of products for human consumption.
The corn used in the Hy-Vee dog food had been tested before
it was blended into the pet food and Pro-Pet officials said they
tested finished products as well. But this contamination was not
discovered until a random bag was pulled from a store shelf in
Iowa by an inspector for the Iowa Department of Agriculture.
The sampling is part of a cooperative agreement that the
Iowa Department of Agriculture forged with the U.S. Food & Drug
Administration as an added measure to protect against aflatoxin
consumption, said Dustin Vande Hoef, a spokesman for the
agriculture department in Iowa, the top U.S. corn-growing state.
Human exposure to high amounts of aflatoxin is rare. But
aflatoxin contamination prompted a series of pet food and
livestock food recalls in December 2011, including products
produced at Cargill's Lecompte, Louisiana, plant and a
Procter & Gamble Co plant in Henderson, North Carolina.
This year the toxin was much more prevalent. According to
crop insurance data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
payouts for mycotoxins, of which aflatoxin is the most common,
totaled nearly $75 million, triple the level of a year ago.
Nearly 85 percent of the claims were filed in six states:
Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri.
Mycotoxins are produced by fungi and can cause kidney and
liver damage, suppress the immune system and disrupt absorption
of nutrients, among other problems.
Hy-Vee spokeswoman Ruth Comer said the company was alarmed
when it learned of the contamination last week, but the results
are not surprising given the conditions.
"The toxin becomes more prevalent in a drought year," Comer
said. "We had worse drought this past year than we've had in
years, so it's not totally surprising that we have a bigger
aflatoxin problem this year than in the past."
No pets have been reported to have suffered illness from the
recalled products, Comer said.
Expectations for higher concentrations of aflatoxin were set
even before the new bushels were harvested last fall. In
September, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Nebraska received FDA
approval to increase the amount of aflatoxin-afflicted corn that
could be blended for animal feed. The FDA granted Iowa a similar
request during droughts in 2003 and 2005 when aflatoxin was
found in the state.
The blended corn must be clearly identified and labeled for
animal feed use only, and allowable aflatoxin levels are limited
depending upon usage.
The Iowa state agriculture department also is requiring the
testing of all milk for aflatoxin, it said.
Pat Tovey, director of technology and regulatory compliance
with the Pet Food Institute, whose members produce more than 7
million tonnes of pet food annually, said preventing aflatoxin
contamination is a high priority for the industry.
"There is certainly more awareness this year," he said. "This
is such a big issue in pet food."
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City and Julie Ingwersen
in Chicago; Editing by Eric Walsh)