Aflatoxins and Other Contaminants Found In Pet Food, According To Recent Tests
A Consumer Council test on dry pet food in Hong Kong has turned up evidence of harmful contaminants such as aflatoxins, melamine, and cyanuric acid in some of the tested products, as reported in an April press release. Aflatoxins have been the cause of a number of recalls in the U.S. in recent years. Melamine imported from China was responsible for the pet food recalls in 2007.
According to the Consumer Council, the products which contained these contaminants are unlikely to pose an immediate health risk to pets because of the low levels detected. However, pet owners faced with the problem of choosing safe foods for their pets may feel concerned.
Tests were performed on 39 dry pet foods in Hong Kong. Products included 20 dog foods and 19 cat foods. The testing revealed the presence of the known carcinogen aflatoxin B1, as well as the contaminants melamine and cyanuric acid in some of the product samples.
Seven products – four dog foods and three cat foods – had trace amounts of aflatoxin B1. The amounts ranged from 1.0 to 2.0 µg/kg dry pet food.
Although the products were made by U.S.-based pet food manufacturers, the press release did not state where these particular products were produced. Many large pet food manufacturers are global entities and have production facilities in different countries. Ingredients can also be obtained from different source countries depending on the country where the pet food is manufactured.
Aflatoxins are microscopic toxic molds that grow on crops such as corn, sorghum, pearl millet, rice, peanuts, wheat, cottonseed, and nuts from trees. Among the different kinds of aflatoxins, aflatoxin B1 is found on crops most often and it is the most toxic and carcinogenic. When animals are exposed to it, especially long term, it can result in damage to the liver and cirrhosis. Aflatoxins are also associated with tumors, immune-suppression, and can lead to death.
The Consumer Council in Hong Kong reports that the low levels of aflatoxin B1 found in the pet food samples were all well within the safety limited established by the European Union. The EU sets a maximum amount in animal feeds (moisture content of 12 percent ) at 0.01 ppm for foods that are complementary and for complete foods. The Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. likewise has an action level to regulate aflatoxins in animal feeds and ingredients.
According to veterinarians, the low amounts of aflatoxin B1 in the test samples should not be a risk for pets who eat the foods on a short term basis. However, if the foods continued to contain aflatoxins, then long term exposure should be avoided because of the health risks.
Animals most at risk of harm from aflatoxin B1 are very young animals and pets who are pregnant. Other factors that can affect the level of risk include the animal’s age, overall health, the amount of aflatoxin ingested, and how long the animal is exposed to the mold.
Symptoms include lethargy, weakness, loss of appetite, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea. If you suspect your pet might have problems related to aflatoxin, you should take him to the vet for assessment.
Other contaminants found in the foods tested were two products that contained melamine and two products with cyanuric acid. Both contaminants were found in very small amounts.
Melamine was identified as the crucial factor in the 2007 pet food recalls. While it is a contaminant, it is also a non-protein nitrogen. That means when ingredients like corn gluten are tested for their nitrogen content, a supplier could cheat the testing by substituting some melamine for the more expensive gluten which contains protein. A pet food manufacturer would believe they are buying pure corn gluten when, in fact, they have been cheated. As a result, melamine can find its way into the pet food supply as it did in 2007 when thousands of cats and dogs died from eating this dangerous contaminant which can cause renal failure. Many pet food manufacturers now test for melamine (and the related cyanuric acid) before making pet food.
The maximum melamine level in animal feeds, according to the United Nations’ food standards body Codex Alimentarius Commission, the FDA and the EU, is 2.5 mg/kg. While four foods tested did show some small amount of melamine and cyanuric acid, they were below this threshold amount.
Veterinarians reported that the amounts of melamine and cyanuric acid detected were too low to cause concern and should not pose a health risk to pets. In addition, the two contaminants were found separately and not in the same foods, which makes them less harmful.
These contaminants are particularly dangerous when they are combined, even though they are of low acute toxicity when measured individually. Cyanuric acid is considered non-toxic by itself. But, combined, when pets are exposed to both substances at the same time, it can lead to the formation of crystals in the kidneys that can result in acute renal failure in animals.
The Consumer Council reported that all of the 39 products tested were free of Salmonella and E. Coli.
The brands tested in Hong Kong included the following:
Brands which tested positive for trace amounts of aflatoxin B1
Hill’s Science Diet
Brands which tested positive for trace amounts of melamine
Brands which tested positive for trace amounts of cyanuric acid