Statement on California Horse Deaths

Back

Cargill’s Updated Statement on California Horse Deaths – June 1, 2017

As promised, we wanted to provide you with an update on our May 15 communication regarding the two horse deaths in California.

We are confident that the unfortunate deaths of these two horses was NOT caused by monensin contamination in our feed. This is a result of an inspection and investigation conducted by the State of California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) in addition to the testing of multiple feed samples and gut contents conducted by CDFA and independent laboratories. 

While initial tests of feed from the farm indicated the possibility of a trace amount of monensin, further independent testing of reserve feed and gut content samples from the second horse, conducted by the CDFA, did not report monensin in either the feed or the horse. In addition, the State of California conducted an on-site inspection of the plant and affirmed our Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP’s).

The tests on the gut contents did not indicate or speculate on other possible causes of death, and neither horse is available for further necropsy.  The possible cause remains unknown, but we’re committed to helping the owners and stable continue their investigation to the extent possible. 

We understand this situation has caused concern for many of our consumers and it is hard to know what to believe online.  We hope these results will help assure you that as horse owners ourselves, we take our obligation to provide safe and quality feed very seriously.

Following is an updated Q/A for your reference and for sharing with others in your circle.

 

ORIGINAL STATEMENT:  Cargill’s Statement on California Horse Deaths – May 15, 2017 (UPDATED June 1, 2017)

In late April, two horses died suddenly three days apart at a stable in Southern California.  Prior to death, the horses did not exhibit any outward symptoms but were found dead in their stalls.  As one can imagine, this has been extremely upsetting for the owners, and because they are Nutrena® customers, we have been working to investigate the potential causes. Many of the people at Nutrena working on this issue are horse owners and horse lovers themselves, and we know how important it is to find the answers.

Depending on the circumstances, a common step in a situation like this can be a test of the feed, and a third party lab conducted testing of feed samples taken from the barn.  This report, shared online, listed the possibility of monensin levels of less than 1ppm, and also indicated that this amount is common in commercial feeds.  Because the report is based on tests of the feed only and not based on any tissue or gut samples from either of the two horses, it does not make any conclusions about actual cause of death.  Based on industry research, the levels of monensin were low enough that a horse could not physically eat enough feed to reach amounts that would be toxic. While it is not certain that the two deaths are related, nor does it appear that the deaths were the result of monensin poisoning, we are still diligently investigating the possible causes and refraining from speculation.  During the process, we’re committed to being transparent with our customers, and will share additional information as available.

We appreciate your patience as we’ve worked through this issue.

 

Frequently Asked Questions – Updated June 1, 2017

 

If it wasn’t monensin that caused the death, what could it have been?

Multiple test results from the feed as well as tests of gut samples from the second horse do not provide any strong clues as to the causes of death, nor is it certain that the two deaths are related.  We are confident, based on the investigation, that monensin poisoning was not the source.  It is hard to speculate what might have caused the deaths of these horses without definitive necropsy results. 

 

Will there be further testing of the horses’ tissue to determine the cause of death of the horses?

The horses’ remains were removed before additional samples could be taken so we are not anticipating any further testing.  It is not our choice whether or not tissue testing is conducted when a horse dies.  While we are confident that monensin did not cause the deaths, we have offered to continue to help with this investigation to the extent that we can.

 

Is it possible that the horses still died of monensin poisoning even though the levels found in the sample were low and no other tests resulted in positive results for monensin?

Based on the results of the State of California and other independent testing, there is no reason to believe these horses died of monensin poisoning.  The testing of the gut contents reported no monensin and the horses did not exhibit any of the common signs of monensin poisoning. 

 

How could the results shared online by consumers differ from the results received by the State of California and Cargill’s own investigation?

As stated in the results shared online by a consumer, the level found in the sample taken on farm was so low that the lab could not accurately quantify it.  The source of the monensin found in the first sample is unknown at this point, but additional tests, including inspection of our facility, have reported no monensin. 

It is difficult to speculate how the trace amounts showed up in the first sample taken on farm. There are many ways that monensin could get into feed after the bag is opened. Farms with ruminant animals could accidentally cross-contaminate feed simply by using the same scoop for two different species (such as horse and calf or goat feed). While there is some risk of contamination in the feed from manufacturing practices, that risk is low, especially if the manufacturer follows strict standards like we do.

 

What happened?

Three days apart in late April, two horses were found dead in their stalls at a stable in California.  The horses did not exhibit any outward symptoms prior to death, but because both horses were on Nutrena® feed, we have been actively involved in investigating the cause.

When the first horse died, there was speculation that it was a heart attack.  After the death of the second horse, there were questions about whether the two events were related.  Samples of the feed as well as digestive material from the second horse were sent to UC-Davis for testing.

The feed test came back showing the potential for trace amounts monensin at less than 1ppm (one part per million), and the report indicated that this amount is common in commercial feeds.  Neither horse exhibited the symptoms normally associated with monensin poisoning, and because the report is based on feed only and not based on tissue samples from either horse, it does not draw conclusions on the causes of death.

While there is no reason to believe that the deaths were related to monensin poisoning, we are still diligently investigating the possible causes and refraining from further speculation.   

 

What specifically did the UC-Davis test results say?

The feed test results came back showing monensin at levels well below 1ppm, and indicated that the actual amount was likely less than that (the levels were below what the third party laboratory can accurately quantify).  The report also states that monensin at levels in the 1 ppm range is common in commercial feed, and did not speculate as to the actual cause of death of each of the horses. 

 

What is monensin?

Monensin is an ingredient used in ruminant feeds to prevent coccidiosis, a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract. The ingredient is also used in poultry feeds.

 

Why was there any monensin present in the sample at all? 

It’s hard to speculate, which is why we are continuing to investigate even though the potential amount shown in the tests was well below toxic levels.  We understand that the production process is a common place to look for sources of cross contamination, but there are also contamination risks on farm especially if there are ruminants or poultry present that consume feeds with monensin.

 

Why didn’t you share the first sample results publicly?

They weren’t ours to share.  Someone who boards at the same location as the owners posted the results on Facebook, raising speculation that monensin poisoning was the cause of death. While the tests showed the potential of trace amounts of monensin in the feed, the horses did not exhibit any of the common signs of monensin poisoning, and the report is based on the feed only and not the actual tissue or gut samples of the horses.

 

Is it possible the feed test results could be false-positive or inaccurate?

We don’t have reason to believe otherwise, but since the feed that was tested came from the farm itself, we’re testing other samples to determine where the monensin could have entered. 

 

Why would there even be a trace amount of monensin found in the sample taken on farm?

It is difficult to speculate, but there are many ways that monensin could get into feed. Farms with ruminant animals could accidentally cross-contaminate feed simply by using the same scoop for two different species (such as horse and calf or goat feed). While there is some risk of contamination in the feed from manufacturing practices, that risk is low, especially if the manufacturer follows strict standards.

The majority of our facilities manufacturing horse feeds are monensin-free. At facilities that are not, we implement strict safety measures, including HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) standards, which are similar to safety measures taken in human food production. All of our facilities are required to follow FDA-approved Good Manufacturing Practices to mitigate the risk of contamination. These practices include: flushing the bins/legs in the plant after feed with monensin is made; sequencing the order in which feeds are made so horse feeds are not made right after a cattle feed is made; segregating bins to ensure horse feeds and cattle feeds are not held in the same bins; and routine residue testing to ensure our facilities are clean. 

 

Is my feed safe, and why hasn’t there been a recall?

Our facility cleared state inspection and all additional testing has come back negative for monensin.  If we had any reason to believe that our feed caused the death of these horses, or posed a risk to any other animal, we would most certainly take immediate action. We have no reason to believe that is the case here, and conducted additional tests as confirmation.  The third party who conducted the first tests reported monensin levels of less than 1ppm and indicated that this amount is common in commercial feeds.  For reference, a study by Elanco determined that that normal levels found in ruminant feeds (33 ppm – more than 30 times the level found in the tests) are not toxic to horses based on research trials.  It would take levels more than 120 times the amount found in the sample to pose risk to horses.  Citation: Ionophore Toxicity in Horses, Tech Talk from Elanco by M.N. Novilla et al

 

Why are you doing additional testing when my horse could be at risk?

From the beginning, we have not had any reason to believe that our feed caused the death of these horses or posed a risk to any animal.  We’ve conducted additional tests to confirm that, and wanted to wait until we had those definitive results to prevent further speculation.

 

Is it possible that there could have been pockets of feed with higher concentration?

It would be highly improbable, especially in bagged feed like what was used at the stable in California.  For a horse to ingest levels high enough to be toxic, both horses – three days apart – would have had to ingest feed that had more than 120 times the amount found in the UC-Davis test, which is unlikely.

 

What are you doing about it now?

The tests on the gut contents did not indicate or speculate on other possible causes of death, and neither horse is available for further necropsy.  The possible cause remains unknown, but we’re committed to helping the owners and stable continue their investigation to the extent possible. 

 

Are there any other reports of deaths under similar circumstances being investigated?

This is the only case of its kind that we are aware of.

 

Who should I contact for more information?

You can continue to visit this site for updates, and also can contact Nutrena customer support at1-800-367-4894. 


 

Additional resources:

 

 

 

Sign Up