updated 12/30/2005 8:53:07 PM ET 2005-12-31T01:53:07

Contaminated dog food which was sold in 23 states killed nearly two dozen dogs and sickened 18 more, the Food and Drug Administration said Friday.

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The deaths and illnesses sparked an FDA investigation into the pet food made by the Diamond Pet Food Company at its Gaston, S.C., manufacturing plant. The FDA said so far 23 animal deaths have been linked to the pet food.

The company, based in Meta, Mo., issued a recall of 19 varieties of dog and cat food on Dec. 21 because some of the pet food made at the Gaston facility was discovered to contain aflatoxin.

Aflatoxin, a naturally occurring chemical that comes from a fungus sometimes found on corn and other crops, can cause severe liver damage. Aflatoxin poisoning can cause sluggishness, a lack of appetite and in severe cases severe vomiting, fever and jaundice.

The recalled pet food was sold in 23 states under the brand names Diamond, Country Value and Professional, and bears the date codes of March 1, 2007, through June 11, 2007. Consumers are asked to immediately stop using the product.

Last week, Tony Caver, the state veterinarian in South Carolina, said that state has five presumed cases linked to aflatoxin, including three fatalities.

Seven dogs from the Rochester, N.Y., area were being treated at Cornell University Hospital for Animals for liver disease and failure after eating contaminated food, said university spokeswoman Sabina Lee. An area veterinarian discovered the link after three dogs died in the area, she said.

Corn-based food recalled
In a Dec. 20 press release, the company said it had notified distributors to hold up the further sale of Diamond pet food that had used corn. The next day it ordered the recall.

“To ensure we got all the affected product or potential to be affected, we cast a very wide net with the recall,” Diamond spokesman Jim Fallon said Friday. He said the company is conducting tests and has set up a consumer information center, open seven days a week, to handle consumer questions.

“We are working with customers and their vets to confirm a link between the pet food and the pet’s illnesses,” he said. “Our whole focus is saving pets’ lives and doing the right thing.”

The company said it was analyzing retained samples of all of the affected pet food products in Gaston in an attempt to isolate specific lot numbers that were impacted and provide the information to distributors, retailers and customers.

According to the company, the pet food was distributed to stores in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, Vermont, and Virginia.

The FDA said some of the recalled product had been exported to at least 29 countries, including several in the European Union. Those countries have been notified, the agency said.

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