“There is no future for these horses. It is just how and when they will die,” says Debra Buis, the mother of two horse crazy teenagers fighting a valiant, but losing battle. “It is a nightmare.”
Buis says 19 horses, including their two, are suffering from monensin toxicity after being fed Lakeland Animal Nutrition’s horse feed. The horses are exhibiting symptoms including sweating in flanks, bloody nostrils, extreme weight loss, and renal failure. Half of the horses, she says, have tested positive for troponin, an enzyme that shows there has been cardiac damage. “There is nothing we can do for them. I can’t describe what this is like.”
Three horses died last month at Masterpiece Equestrian Center, where the ailing horses reside in south Florida. The boarding and training stable, owned by Rick and Millie Pryce, has been in business for about 30-years but could go broke almost overnight. The hunter/jumper business normally bustles with children taking lessons from one of three trainers, but without horses to ride, the business has stopped and the show season has been canceled.
“We feel like the feed company came to the farm on October 9th, when we opened the feed bags and killed our horses — some fast and some slowly,” Buis says.
The first horse began showing colic-like symptoms and died on October 15th. Two days later, a boarder’s pony experienced paralysis. The 12-year-old held her gelding in her lap before he was euthanized. Buis says the girl is helping the other children with their sick horses although she is devastated. “She walks around crying.”
The pony’s necropsy states “the presence of a high level of monensin within the pelleted feed and trace amounts within gastric contents and heart tissue confirm the suspicion of monensin toxicosis in this horse. There was multifocal minimal to mild degeneration of skeletal and cardiac muscle and a few scattered areas of skeletal muscle necrosis consistent with acute monensin toxicosis.”
The third horse was a 15-year old Thoroughbred owned by the stable and used in lessons to teach the more accomplished riders. According to a necropsy, the gelding suffered from acute ionophore toxicity, which resulted in congestive heart failure.
Buis says the state veterinarian’s office sent the feed for testing and contacted authorities. “We have had the results since October 22. The feed tested positive for monensin. Alltech and Lakeland Animal Nutrition were made aware of this by the state immediately.”
Lakeland Animal Nutrition issued a voluntary recall on October 24, stating there may be a “quality issue” with its equine feed. More recently, the group said it was ceasing production of all equine feeds, effective immediately.
In a November 4th statement, the company said “we have not come to this decision lightly. It has been the result of many months of consideration and ultimately allows us to focus on core manufacturing competencies in beef, dairy, poultry, and swine along with other classes of commercial livestock.”
Test results from Cornell University Animal Health Diagnostic Center reveal Signature Pellet lot 14-251 was positive for monensin at a concentration of 268 ppm, which is more than twice the level determined to be toxic to horses. Lot 14-280, which was also a part of the recall, tested positive for monensin at approximately 195 ppm.
Both lots tested were consumed by the farm’s horses.
According to Veterinary Toxicology, by Dr. Ramesh Gupta, feeding Monensin at a concentration of 121 ppm is toxic to horses.
Monensin is also sold under the trademarked name Rumensin. It is an ionophore. The cattle industry adds monensin to its pre-mixed feeds to help make feeding more efficient. It can end up in horse feed if produced in the same mill as cattle feed if the milling process is not managed properly.
Lakeland Animal Nutrition, a subsidiary of Alltech, says it is cooperating with authorities and has been working closely with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. A spokesperson for the agency says tests on the horse feed should be back this week.
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is aware of the situation and is working with the state and the firm,” says spokesperson Megan Bensette. The FDA only has the authority to regulate food products that are in interstate commerce or on a federal level. “To date, the available information limits this recall to intrastate commerce,” Bensette says.
“Their dreams are crushed. These horses are the kids’ lives. The only way we can move forward is for the feed company to make this right,” says Buis.
The majority of the horse owners have hired attorney Andrew Yaffa, of the firm Grossman Roth, P.A., in Coral Gables. Yaffa says it is his goal to ensure the “devastated families are made whole for the losses they have suffered.”
Yaffa says he also wants to make sure this mistake does not repeat itself. “These horses and owners are suffering and this was totally preventable.”
“We can’t erase what happened, but we want it back,” says Buis.
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