ALBANY, N.Y. – Pet owners were rechecking their cabinets and threatening legal action after state officials said rat poison was found in pet food blamed for the deaths of at least 16 cats and dogs. It was unclear how many deaths would eventually be linked to the “cuts and gravy”-style food produced by Menu Foods, but scientists said Friday that they expected more would be announced. The substance in the food was identified as aminopterin, a cancer drug that once was used to induce abortions in the United States and is still used to kill rats in some other countries, state Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker said. The federal government prohibits using aminopterin for killing rodents in the U.S. State officials would not speculate on how the poison got into the pet food, but said no criminal investigations had been launched. The pet deaths led to a recall of 60 million cans and pouches of dog and cat food the company produced and sold throughout North America. After Friday’s announcement, Menu Foods food advised retailers to remove all brands from their shelves, a company spokesman said, though the recall still applies only to the dog and cat foods identified on its Web site since March 16. Those cover cans and pouches of food packaged from Dec. 3 through March 6. “The recall has not been expanded,” Menu spokesman Sam Bornstein said Saturday. Menu Foods, based in Ontario, Canada, said it would take responsibility for pet medical expenses incurred as a result of the tainted food, but it was cold comfort to the owners of pets sickened or killed. “Before they put this stuff in the bags, there should be some kind of test,” said San Fernando Valley resident Jeff Kerner, whose Yorkshire terrier Pebbles died Thursday. “I can’t just let it go. Even if they just change the law.” The dog had eaten some of the food, Kerner said, and he was contacting an attorney because he wanted to prevent another pet tragedy. Some pets that ate the recalled brands suffered kidney failure, and the company has confirmed the deaths of 15 cats and one dog. However, pet owners and veterinarians said the tally could actually be higher, and other deaths were reported anecdotally around the country. There is no risk to pet owners from handling the food, officials said. The Food and Drug Administration has said the investigation was focused on wheat gluten in the food. The gluten itself would not cause kidney failure, but it could have been contaminated, the FDA said. Paul Henderson, chief executive of Menu Foods, confirmed Friday that the wheat gluten was purchased from China. Bob Rosenberg, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association, said it would be unusual for the wheat to be tainted. “It would make no sense to spray a crop itself with rodenticide,” Rosenberg said, adding that grain shippers typically put bait stations around the perimeter of their storage facilities. Scientists at the New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell University and at the New York State Food Laboratory tested three cat food samples provided by the manufacturer and found aminopterin in two of them. The two labs are part of a network created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to keep the nation’s animals and food supply safe. “Any amount of this product is too much in food,” Hooker said. Aminopterin is highly toxic in high doses. It inhibits the growth of malignant cells and suppresses the immune system. In dogs and cats, the amount of aminopterin found – 40 parts per million – can cause kidney failure, according to Bruce Akey, director of Cornell’s diagnostic center. “It’s there in substantial amounts,” Akey said. Donald Smith, dean of Cornell’s veterinary school, said he expected the number of pet deaths to increase. “Based on what we’ve heard the last couple days, 16 is a low number,” Smith said. Aminopterin is no longer marketed as a cancer drug, but is still used in research, said Andre Rosowsky, a chemist with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Rosowsky speculated that the substance would not show up in pet food “unless somebody put it there.” Henderson said Menu Foods does not believe the food was tampered with because the recalled food came from two different plants – one in Kansas, one in New Jersey. Menu continues to produce food at the two plants.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! On one hand, Francisco Martinez and Paige Rodriguez aren’t so different. They both live in the San Fernando Valley. They’re both around 30. They both work with cars. But the similarity ends there. Rodriguez customizes high-end automobiles and sells them to celebrities. Last year, his 101 Automotive Group grossed $2.5 million. The Toluca Lake man drives a tricked-out Mercedes-Benz S550 he estimates is worth $150,000. “I’m really blessed,” he said. “I still don’t have a Lamborghini, though. And I need one.” As Rodriguez marveled at the sleek, red Italian sports car, Martinez washed it. For the past seven years, that’s been his living, earning minimum wage plus tips. He has an apartment on Victory Boulevard in Valley Glen with his wife and two kids. He makes $300 to $400 a week. “It’s hard,” Martinez said. “I don’t have a lot of money but compared to Mexico, it’s good. There, $5 is a day’s work.” Rodriguez considers himself well-off; Martinez considers himself poor. And according to a report released today by the UCLA Anderson Forecast, Los Angeles has a growing number of people just like both of them and not so many in the middle. While the local economy has adapted in recent years to accommodate more middle-class jobs, the report, titled “Richer and Poorer: Income Inequality in Los Angeles,” warns that the next generation of workers could find itself ill-prepared to labor its way from poor to rich. The current educational model is not well-suited to the economy of tomorrow, and if it isn’t changed radically, “we could see the middle class hollowed out again,” said Jerry Nickelsburg, an economist with the Anderson Forecast at the University of California, Los Angeles. To illustrate the income gap, economists use a scale in which zero is for a utopian society with wealth evenly distributed, and 100 is for a society in which a few mega-rich individuals hold all the dollars. In the United States, the index has slowly inched up to somewhere near 50 in the past 35 years, meaning wealth is distributed somewhat evenly between rich and poor. In L.A., however, it’s above 60 percent, meaning the wealthy control a disproportionate share of the money. According to the most recent Census Bureau data, the mean annual household income in Los Angeles stood at $66,364. On the wealthy side, nearly 60,000 households made more than $200,000. On the poor side, more than 140,000 made $10,000 or less. Things aren’t as bad as they were in the 1990s, when high-wage manufacturing jobs evaporated by the tens of thousands and the index soared well above the national average. Nickelsburg said the economy had evolved, so high-wage service jobs paralegal, graphic design, communications and audio-visual gave workers a better shot at working their way into the middle class. But the key difference then, he said, was that someone also could land a manufacturing job right out of high school with no special training. And if assembly-line workers got laid off at General Motors in Van Nuys, they could often take a short trip to Burbank and get hired at Lockheed with the same pay. Graphic designers, on the other hand, can’t just apply to be nurses if their firm closes. And without a more comprehensive employment-development and training strategy throughout the region, economist Jack Kyser said, the middle-class jobs of today can easily evaporate tomorrow. “When you have a two-tier economy with a rapidly shrinking middle class, you’ll have some social problems like crime and homelessness,” he said. “You need a balanced economy with a good job ladder so if people want to work hard, they can get ahead.” Jos? Torres, 21, of Sylmar wants to work hard and get ahead. The first isn’t so difficult, he said, but the latter is a challenge. Torres makes $9.25 an hour, plus commissions, answering phones in customer service. He brings home around $285 a week. He rents a room from his mother, has credit card and cell phone bills and makes payments to a friend who lent him money to buy a 1991 Toyota Celica. To try to get ahead, Torres sought assistance from Communities In Schools, a North Hills agency that helped get him into vocational training. He plans to study to get into real estate and to save for a home. “It’s pretty difficult,” he said. “You need a little pile of money to get started, but it’s hard. Everything’s going up rent, gas, everything. You’re not going to get that pile unless you starve yourself.” — Brent Hopkins, (818) email@example.com