A California feed manufacturer accused of selling monensin-contaminated equine feed, knew about cross contamination issues for years, according to reports from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Tainted horse feed produced by Western Milling, LLC allegedly poisoned 13 horses to death since last fall. Dozens more in Fresno have been handed a slow and painful death sentence while their owners are forced to watch. That is because monensin is highly poisonous to horses and affects their heart and skeletal muscles.
FDA documents we obtained detail Western Milling’s past violations, including adulterated feed, going back to 2010. An inspection of the Goshen feed mill in 2011 found that Creekside Lifestages Horse Pellet, lot 1047, contained 42.7 g/ton of monensin. The inspection was initiated after Family Farm Complete Horse 10 Pellet, lot 1006, manufactured for Manna Pro, contained an average of 55.6 g/ton of monensin. Recalls were initiated for both product lots.
The FDA’s report attributes the equine feed contamination to three factors at Western Milling’s Goshen feed plant: inadequate procedures; equipment not being properly maintained; and manufacturing/sacking horse feed and medicated feeds on the same equipment.
The mill manufactures feed for multiple species. According to documents, the medicated feed contains up to 3,000 g/ton of monensin.
Additional horse feed samples collected revealed “low, but persistent, levels of monensin”.
Kevin Kruse Western Milling President and CEO told FDA inspectors, “he was aware that there was some carryover of monensin into non-medicated feeds, but did not consider the amounts to be significant. He indicated that because he did not find these results to be significant, the firm had not made any changes … or instituted an investigation to determine the cause of the carry-over.”
Kruse did not return our requests for an interview.
During a previous inspection, mill management said it would dedicate a sacking line to medicated feed. The inspector states, “during this current inspection, this assertion was again made… Further investigation showed that this is not true. The firm does not have a dedicated medicated sacking line.”
The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires animal feed, like human food, to be truthfully labeled and contain no harmful substances.
The FDA would not confirm if it is currently investigating Western Milling. FDA Health Communications Specialist Megan Bensette says, “FDA is required by law to protect company confidential information [sic].”
Monensin, sold under the brand name Rumensin, is an ionophore. The feed additive helps cattle improve weight gain and controls internal parasites. Monensin can end up in horse feed if it is produced in the same mill as cattle or poultry feed and the milling process is not managed properly.
Black Fence Farm
Prior to September, Katie Flanigan’s Black Fence Farm was a place for budding riders to further their equestrian skills. The stable’s property housed 50 hunter/jumper horses.
Lab results from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) show Flanigan fed lot 5251 of Western Blend Horse Feed containing 134 g/ton of monensin. A lot manufactured in July tested positive for trace amounts of monensin.
The surviving horses can’t be ridden due to the damage their bodies have sustained. The farm is now dedicated to equine triage and vet appointments. Supportive care and euthanasia are the only options since the horses’ symptoms will continue to get worse.
Symptoms of monensin poisoning may include colic, sweating, muscle wasting, bloating, kidney failure, damage to the heart, respiratory distress, stiffness, and the inability to stand. The level of monensin toxicity is dose and individual dependent.
Flanigan and her attorney met with milling CEO Kruse. She made a video of the horses competing with the kids to show the partnerships that are built between horse and rider. It also contained gruesome scenes of the horses’ deaths after allegedly eating the poisoned horse feed.
“He didn’t want to give me the time of day, but I demanded it,” Flanigan says. As Kruse watched the images on the screen, Flanigan says he and his attorney were “clearly uncomfortable”.
“You think it’s a horrible mistake and then you find they [Western Milling] knew the risks and disregarded the FDA’s advice,” Flanigan says. “They didn’t care.”
The company issued a recall of Western Blend Horse Feed on September 25 stating the feed was “potentially contaminated” with monensin. Cambria Ross, from Temecula, put her horses on the feed days prior. She says her formerly healthy horses now suffer from permanent neurologic damage, elevated troponin levels, and one has a heart murmur. Ross says she is enraged. “They’ve been poisoning horses for years. They [Western Milling] need to do the right thing.”
The horse owners are represented by attorney Andy Yaffa of Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen, P.A., from Coral Gables, Florida. “I want to see my clients compensated appropriately for all of the damages caused by Western Milling’s acts and further for Western Milling to finally take corrective action to ensure this never happens again [sic],” says Yaffa.
And horses aren’t the only animals that have allegedly died from Western Milling’s tainted feed. Court documents state in August 2014, Western Milling allegedly paid over $2.6 million to the owners of cattle that consumed “excessively high levels” of monensin. More than 850 cattle died.
The CDFA confirms it is investigating Western Milling, which is a subsidiary of O.H. Kruse Grain & Milling Company. State officials will not say if the mill has ever been penalized due to its on-going quality control issues.
Flanigan says, “this company needs to make major changes or needs to stop making horse feed.”
Western Milling’s attorney did not respond to our request for an interview.