April 27, 2007 / 8:09 PM / 12 years ago

UPDATE 1-Menu Foods says ChemNutra statement wrong

(Recasts with new information throughout, adds byline)

By Aarthi Sivaraman

NEW YORK, April 27 (Reuters) - Menu Foods said on Friday that ChemNutra was wrong in implying that suspicious wheat gluten used in its pet food may have come from other suppliers, since it did not start having problems with tainted supplies until it starting working with ChemNutra.

U.S. officials have said the wheat gluten used in pet food made by Menu Foods MEW_u.TO was tainted with melamine, an industrial chemical that is not approved for use in food, and is linked to a U.S. pet food recall that includes over 100 brands and could expand further.

“ChemNutra’s statement is wrong, and unnecessarily alarms consumers,” a Menu Foods spokesman said via e-mail.

Earlier in the day, ChemNutra, whose offices were searched by the FDA, said it believed Menu Foods used significantly more wheat gluten every month than ChemNutra provided.

“We hope that Menu Foods will disclose its other sources to the FDA to ensure that any suspect product is quarantined,” ChemNutra Chief Executive Steve Miller said.

Menu Foods, which is based in Canada, acknowledged that it has been using wheat gluten from two suppliers in the United States and Europe for many years, but had not experienced any problems until it also started buying the ingredient from ChemNutra.

“Last fall, (Menu Foods) added a third supplier, ChemNutra, and the issues we have experienced date to that time,” the spokesman said.

Wheat gluten and rice protein imported from China and used in some pet food have already been found to be tainted with melamine, according to the FDA. It was first found in March in wheat gluten used by Menu Foods, and could have caused the deaths of 16 cats and dogs, FDA officials have said.

Menu Foods has filed a lawsuit against ChemNutra for damages and costs associated with the recall, a ChemNutra spokesman said.

The company is mulling several responses, including whether or not it can assert a claim against Menu Foods for the delay in letting it know about the problem, he added.

ChemNutra said it had quarantined its wheat gluten as soon as Menu Foods informed it that the company might have contributed to pet illnesses.

The company said it had been told that it could be held accountable for importing melamine-tainted wheat gluten from China, which it sold to Menu Foods. It said it had no prior knowledge or reason to believe that its Chinese supplier had put melamine in the product.

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