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Recall Leads Pet Food Maker To Sue Ingredient Supplier

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A pet food manufacturer that recalled 60 million cans of its products last month has sued another company that it says supplied a contaminated ingredient.

Menu Foods Midwest Corp. wants ChemNutra Inc., of Las Vegas, to pay costs associated with the recall of dog and cat food and is seeking damages ``substantially in excess of $75,000.''

Wheat gluten that ChemNutra sold to Menu Foods Midwest, an affiliate of Menu Foods Ltd., contained melamine, a chemical found in plastics and pesticides and not approved for use in pet food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Lyon County District Court.

``ChemNutra represented itself to Menu Foods and the North American food market as a business that imports high-quality nutritional and pharmaceutical ingredients from China to the United States,'' the lawsuit said.

Menu Foods Ltd., based in Streetsville, Ontario, recalled its products after 16 pets, mostly cats, died from eating contaminated food. Other manufacturers also recalled animal food; Menu Foods said it now faces more than 50 lawsuits.

But ChemNutra said a Chinese supplier is responsible for its shipments of contaminated wheat gluten. In a statement on the company's Web site, Chief Executive Steve Miller said a Chinese company was recommended to ChemNutra by a ``reliable source'' and provided apparent proof that its wheat gluten was safe.

``We are concerned that we may have been the victim of deliberate and mercenary contamination,'' Miller said in the statement.

An attorney for Menu Foods in Kansas City, Mo., did not immediately return a message left at his office. A spokesman for ChemNutra said he was reviewing the lawsuit and planned to respond later Thursday.

The lawsuit said most of the wheat gluten from ChemNutra went to a plant in Emporia, about 50 miles south of Topeka, where Menu Foods Midwest is based. Wheat gluten is a vegetable protein, and Menu Foods used it in ``cuts and gravy'' pet foods.

The lawsuit, which lists Menu Foods Midwest, Menu Foods Ltd., Menu Foods Holdings Inc. and Menu Foods Inc. as plaintiffs, accuses ChemNutra of breach of contract and breach of implied warranties about the safety of the wheat gluten and its fitness for use in pet food. It said each shipment of wheat gluten came with a certificate saying it met Menu Foods' requirements.

``ChemNutra knew that Menu Foods was relying on ChemNutra's skill and judgment to supply high-quality wheat gluten,'' the lawsuit said.

In his statement, Miller said ChemNutra didn't know melamine was an issue in its wheat gluten until notified by the FDA, two weeks after Menu Foods initiated its first recall.

``In fact, we had never heard of melamine before,'' he said. ``It's simply not a chemical on the radar screen for food ingredient suppliers.''
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