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Maker Of Tainted Pet Food Agrees To Settle

A pet food maker whose contaminated food 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.

Streetsville, Ontario-based Menu Foods Income Fund announced the tentative settlements on 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 cans of the pet food when it was discovered that some contained aminopterin, a chemical that has been used to induce abortions, treat cancer and kill rats.

The discovery of the chemical by researchers at the New York State Food Laboratory in Albany 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 were consolidated in a federal court in Camden, N.J. Many of the companies that own the private labels were also sued.

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 there.

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

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

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