After years of unsubstantiated but persistent rumors, Purina is finally being sued for allegedly killing thousands of dogs with one brand of kibble.

The particular brand in question is Purina Petcare Beneful, a product pet owners have been pointing to as a potential danger for years, though no causal links have ever been determined. A new class action lawsuit headed by plaintiff Frank Lucido, however, alleges that the reason a toxicological link has never been established is because no one had been looking at the correct culprit.

Originally, the theory ran that the ingredient making so many dogs sick was propylene glycol (the same ingredient whose content in Fireball whiskey is a source of contention in Europe). The reasoning here is the same as it is there: propylene glycol is an additive to anti-freeze, so therefore it must be scary and terrifying and all that pseudo-scientific jazz. The problem is the symptoms the dogs were suffering from ‚ÄĒ vomiting, internal bleeding, seizures, organ failure ‚ÄĒ have no established link with propylene glycol, even in Europe (where the additive isn't allowed).

So if it isn't the scary chemical-sounding thing (sorry, Food Babe), what could be causing this? The lawsuit has a theory: mycotoxins, a toxic and difficult-to-detect mold byproduct found in many types of grains ‚ÄĒ and dry dog food is far more grain than it is anything else. Moreover, dog food is not typically tested for the presence of mycotoxins (FDA regulations are, perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot more lenient when it comes to pet food than they are people food). Even if they were, however, they would be pretty easy to miss. Via James Joiner of The Daily Beast:

"In the channels of trade, grain is quite a lot like hamburger these days. As in 'There's multiple cows in a hamburger,' if you will," explained Dr. Gregory Möller, professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology at the University of Idaho and Washington State University joint School of Food Science. "It's a mixed and blended commodity. So one farmer, one granary, or one mill, may have not stored their product well, which allowed for mold growth in storage."

Even if a scientist were to stumble upon a load of grain rife with mycotoxins, Möller added, he or she could test it and still miss them.

"You can go into a sample that is known contaminated," Möller noted. "But the particular sub sample you pull may not have enough on it to actually see. There is that challenge."

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Möller went on to say that mycotoxin poisoning from Beneful was "a plausible scenario." The lawsuit thus hinges on tests for the presence of mycotoxins that have not yet been conducted, as well as the courts allowing for transparency in the storage and sourcing process.

Bear in mind, also, that if Beneful is responsible for these pet deaths, it's almost certainly responsible for far more that simply haven't been reported. Purina, for its part, is digging in its heels with a public statement:

"We believe the lawsuit is without merit and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves. Beneful is a high-quality nutritious food enjoyed by millions of dogs each year and there are no product quality issues with Beneful."

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Tough words. Regardless, it seems like something is killing these pets, and if Beneful is the common link, Purina might soon have a lot of explaining to do.

Image via Richard Peterson/Shutterstock.