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Toxin in pet food eaten by chickens fed to people { May 4 2007 }

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Posted on Fri, May. 04, 2007
Contaminant confirmed in FDA tests
Melamine found in nearly 400 of 700 samples of pet food additives. All lots traced to Chinese exporters.
The Kansas City Star

The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that of 700 tests of wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate, almost 400 revealed a contaminant believed to have killed thousands of pets.

The substance found, melamine, is used to make plastic and fertilizer and was first discovered in pet food in February. The FDA said all of the positive tests have been traced to 92 lots of wheat gluten and rice protein that came from two previously identified Chinese exporters. All lots from the two Chinese firms were traced back to pet food manufacturers, a dozen of which have now initiated recalls.

There have been allegations that the Chinese mix melamine with wheat gluten to make it appear to be a higher-protein, and thus better-grade, food ingredient.

The FDA reiterated Thursday that melamine consumed by humans is unlikely to have any detrimental health effect. Human consumption occurred when some of the tainted pet food was sold to feed mills for hogs and chickens before it was discovered to have been tainted with melamine. That feed was fed to 2.7 million broiler chickens and approximately 400 hogs that have been processed and likely consumed.

“Based on what we know on the levels of melamine and the dilution effect, the likelihood of any ill effects is very remote,” said David Acheson, assistant commissioner for food protection at the FDA.

The agency said it is presently visiting both human and pet food manufacturers that have protein concentrates such as wheat gluten and rice protein imported from China and testing those ingredients for melamine. Acheson said the FDA doesn’t yet have any results from those tests.

The pet food problem was discovered in February by Canadian-based Menu Foods when 13 cats died after a taste test. While only 16 deaths have been officially confirmed, the FDA estimates thus far that about 2,000 cats and about 2,000 dogs have died from eating the contaminated pet food. The agency has received over 17,000 calls on the issue and is still logging calls.

Menu Foods, which on Thursday expanded its recall of approximately 100 brands and labels of pet food for the fourth time, said it received the tainted wheat gluten from Las Vegas-based ChemNutra.

ChemNutra says it received the wheat gluten from Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology in China, although the purchase order lists the shipping company as Suzhou Textiles Silk Light Industrial.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the general manager of Xuzhou had been detained for unknown reasons. The FDA declined to comment on that report or to elaborate on any progress being made by the agency in its investigation in China.

There also have been reports that it is common practice for some Chinese firms to ship food labeled as nonfood items in order to evade officials and inspection. The FDA is sending a team to China to investigate.

“We need to see what comes out of this investigation in China,” Acheson said. “Clearly, this whole episode has raised questions we had not previously been thinking about.”

Meanwhile, legislation passed Wednesday by the Senate to strengthen the FDA’s ability to police food was stripped of its most important element — the ability to require recalls.

The FDA said it doesn’t comment on pending legislation.

Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who proposed the legislation, said earlier this week that the authority to require recalls is important.

“I think if you ask any consumer across America, they would think it would be obvious,” Durbin said. “The government should have that power.”

Durbin’s office said Wednesday that the issue will be taken up later this year.

The legislation provides for an early warning notification system, uniform standards for pet food, improved regulation of imported foods and better record keeping.

“This is a huge step forward,” Durbin’s office said in an e-mail.

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