Medicated feed ingredient cited in US horse death lawsuit

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

A barn in New York is suing its feed provider alleging that the company cross-contaminated its horse feed with the animal feed ingredient monensin, which lead to the death or injury of several horses.

The lawsuit was brought in the Supreme Court of the State of New York and the County of Allegany by a group of horse owners who stabled animals at the TMC Performance Horses barn in Allegany County New York and by the farm’s owners. It alleges that a feed given to the horses in 2016 contained the medicated feed additive, monensin.

There has been a delay between the initial feed incident and the filing of the lawsuit because the group of horse owners had an expectation that the feed company, Reisdorf Bros, would accept responsibility for the damage caused, said Andrew Yaffa, a member of the group’s legal team.

However, he said the company has been “sticking its head in the sand”​ on the matter.

“Had they been willing to step-up and do what was right we’d never be in litigation,”​ he told FeedNavigator.

The intention with the lawsuit is to find compensation for the group of horse owners involved and to alert the equine world, he said. “[We want] to open the eyes of the equine world to understand how widespread the monensin issue is,”​ he added.

People feeding horses should be asking if the feed they use comes from a facility that is ionophore-free, said Yaffa. “If I’m not buying from an ionophore free mill, what safeguards are in place?”

Cases of horse feed contamination are not uncommon and the ingredient is typically an ionophore like monensin, he said.

In this instance, the feed was tested and found it to have monensin, however it is harder to test animals because the enzyme reaction to the ionophore is only present for a short period, he said.   

“What we’re dealing with here are failures across the board,”​ he said. “The only way to ensure that you’re getting your horse feed [clean] is to test it to ensure that it is monensin free.”

The feed mill had an obligation to ensure that its feed was free of the contaminant and if the issue was faulty equipment, or in transportation, unclean containers, or sacking, or production then that was the company’s obligation, said Yaffa. “There was poison in the feed that shouldn’t have been there – no amount is acceptable,”​ he added.

When asked about the case a representative for Reisdorf Bros, the feed mill, which produces a range of complete feeds for the dairy, poultry, and swine sectors as well as equine feeds, declined to comment on a matters of pending litigation.

Feed-related lawsuits fact box

The ongoing lawsuit in New York is not the first time that horse owners have alleged damage from contamination of horse feed from cattle feed ingredients.

In May of 2017, Western Milling agreed​ to a cash fine and $200,000 in safety upgrades to address the deaths of several horses and calves in California reportedly due to levels of monensin found in its feed. The company denied wrongdoing in the settlement deal, but was ordered to split its production facilities into one that could use ionophores products and another that would not.

A group of horse owners previously brought a lawsuit​ against ADM regarding horse feed produced that they alleged had elevated levels of monensin.

A Canadian company is facing a 5-year import ban​ after attempting to import to the US a shipment of cattle feed with elevated levels of monensin.

A Kentucky-based company, Burkmann Nutrition, also was cited​ by the FDA for the deaths of 23 cattle after selling a feed with elevated levels of monensin.  

Lawsuit details

In the complaint filed, the group of horse and barn owners allege that a batch of horse feed produced by Reisdorf Bros in 2016 included a level of monensin that was lethal to horses. The use of that feed has led to the death or permanent injury of the horses that consumed it.  

The feed additive is used in several kinds of animal feed, but is toxic for horses, the lawyers said in the complaint. There is no cure for monensin poisoning in horses, and some of the health consequences includes death, colic, muscle weakness, kidney failure and heart damage.

“Horses poisoned with monensin are likely to develop signs of congestive heart failure if they are ridden, used in any type of performance sport, or stressed in some other way,” ​the lawyers said. “Consequently, treatment of monensin poisoning is primarily palliative and supportive.”

The feed producer was aware that monensin is an inappropriate ingredient in horse feed, they said. The company designs, makes, tests and sells feed for several animals including horses, pigs, cattle and poultry.

“Reisdorf utilizes monensin as an additive in non-horse feed,” ​they said. “Reisdorf exclusively controls and manages the process by which its horse feed and non-horse feed is produced, held, maintained, packaged, labeled, tested, and delivered to purchasers.”

It was the company’s responsibility to ensure that the needed policies and procedures were in place to keep the feed additive separate from its horse feed production, the lawyers argued.

“Reisdorf must ensure that its machinery, equipment, supplies, and vehicles used to transport feed are designed and maintained in a way to prevent contamination of horse feed and that its staff be trained in methods to prevent contamination,” ​they alleged in the complaint. “It must also have in place and follow a positive release protocol or process, that is, a procedure to test batches of horse feed for the presence of monensin and ensure that all batches of horse feed released into the stream of commerce are monensin-free.”

In communications between the barn and the feed company, monensin was not listed as an ingredient in the horse feed, they said.

“It utilized defective equipment which it knew or should have known created an unreasonable risk that toxic levels of monensin would contaminate its horse feed,”​ they said. “It also failed to warn Plaintiffs that the feed sold to them contained monensin or had a likelihood of containing monensin.”

The group is arguing that the feed mill is at fault in multiple ways including: that the company deprived the owners of their horses; caused the damage; caused emotional distress, sold a defective product, failed to warn consumers about the potential risk associated with use of the feed and that the company misrepresented its feed, the lawyers said.

“Reisdorf had a duty to plaintiffs and the general public to exercise reasonable care in the design, making, inspecting, testing, packaging, labeling, marketing, sale, supply, and distribution of its horse feed, including the contaminated and toxic feed, which was consumed by the plaintiffs' horses,”​ they said. “Reisdorf breached its duty of care to plaintiffs in the design, making, inspecting, testing, packaging, labeling, marketing, sale, supply, and distribution of the contaminated and toxic feed by its conduct.”

The group is asking for damages from economic and on-economic losses along with attorneys’ fees and other relief as the court decides, according to the complaint.


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