updated 4/1/2008 6:44:08 PM ET 2008-04-01T22:44:08

A pet food maker whose contaminated product may have led to the deaths of thousands of dogs and cats in North America has agreed to settle lawsuits with pet owners in the United States and Canada.

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Streetsville, Ontario-based Menu Foods Income Fund announced the tentative settlements Tuesday.

"It's a comprehensive settlement," said Amy W. Schulman, a lawyer for Menu. "It would resolve all the claims."

Schulman said she could not disclose how much the settlements would be worth, but the company did say that it expects its total costs associated with the massive recall of its products last year to be about $53.8 million.

The company's pet foods are produced in bulk and sold as store brands.

In March 2007, Menu recalled tens of millions of containers of pet food when the New York State Food Laboratory discovered that some contained aminopterin, a chemical that has been used to induce abortions, treat cancer and kill rats.

The U.S. food and Drug Administration later rejected that finding but found melamine, a chemical used to make plastics, in samples of Menu Foods' products. The melamine was traced to contaminated wheat gluten imported from China.

The discoveries solved the mystery of why so many seemingly healthy pets had been dying in the previous months. But it was only the start of the legal odyssey.

In the United States, dozens of cases against Menu and many of the companies that own the private labels were consolidated in a federal court in Camden, N.J.

Sherrie R. Savett, a lead lawyer for the pet owners, said they "we're pleased we've been able to come to an agreement in principle on the major terms of the settlement. We've committed to the court we will have a fully drawn settlement agreement by May 1," which is the deadline the company has to file the terms of the settlement in Camden.

U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman set a May 14 hearing to consider the agreement.

The company said it expects the court approval process in Canada to come at roughly the same time.

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