Pet Food Scandal Grows

from The Washington Post
By Steven Reinberg

SATURDAY, April 28 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials on Friday searched the facilities of a pet food manufacturer and one of its suppliers in the continuing probe of contaminated dog and cat food products, the Associated Press reported.

The officials searched an Emporia, Kan., pet food plant operated by Menu Foods and the Las Vegas offices of ChemNutra Inc., the news service said, citing information supplied by the companies.

Menu Foods made many of the more than 100 brands of pet food recalled since March 16 because of contamination by the chemical melamine. ChemNutra supplied Menu Foods with wheat gluten, one of two ingredients imported from China and tainted by melamine used in the recalled pet products. Both companies said they were cooperating with the investigation, the AP said.

On Thursday, the FDA said some 6,000 hogs have been quarantined across eight U.S. states because they may have eaten contaminated salvage pet food.

At the same time, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials said that meat from 345 hogs that ate tainted feed has already entered the U.S. food supply, the AP reported.

The quarantined hogs are on farms in California, New York, South Carolina, North Carolina, Utah, Kansas, Oklahoma and Ohio, the AP said. And the USDA reported that swine from slaughterhouses in Kansas and Utah may have entered the food supply. Government officials, however, consider the threat to human health to be very low.

The swine are thought to have been exposed to food contaminated by two chemicals, melamine and cyanuric acid, that was sent as salvage by companies who have had to recall massive quantities of dog and cat food as the pet food recall rolls on.

"Today we notified eight states that adulterated swine products will not be approved to enter the food supply," Capt. David Elder, director of the FDA's Office of Enforcement Office of Regulatory Affairs, said during a Thursday afternoon teleconference.

He stressed, however, that "based on information currently available, the FDA and the USDA believe the likelihood of illness after eating such pork is extremely low. However, the agencies also believe it is prudent to take this measure."

According to the AP, potentially contaminated pet food scraps may also have found their way to a poultry feed mill in Missouri. That case remains under investigation.

Melamine was first found in pet foods manufactured by the Canadian company Menu Foods, which began its widely publicized recall March 16. That recall included moist dog and cat foods made with melamine-contaminated wheat gluten imported from China.

The recall has since expanded to other pet food manufacturers and other pet food ingredients, including imported rice protein concentrate and corn gluten.

In a new recall added on Thursday, Chenango Valley Pet Foods, of Shelburne, N.Y., announced it was recalling a variety of shipments of dry pet foods, including selected packets of: Doctors Foster & Smith Chicken & Brown Rice Formula Adult Lite Dog Food; Doctors Foster & Smith Chicken & Brown Rice Formula Adult Lite Cat Food; Lick Your Chops Lamb Meal, Rice & Egg Cat Food, and Bulk Chicken & Brown Rice Formula Adult Lite Dog Food.

In addition to melamine, the FDA has now found cyanuric acid in the rice protein concentrate and wheat gluten used in much of the pet food recalled over the past few weeks.

Like melamine, cyanuric acid is a chemical that can be used to boost the apparent protein content of foods. It is most often used as a stabilizer in outdoor swimming pools and hot tubs.

"The combination of melamine and cyanuric acid is of concern to human and animal health," Elder said. "Melamine, at detected levels, is not a human health concern."

The USDA will compensate hog farmers affected by the tainted pet food, Kenneth Peterson, an assistant administrator for field operations at the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, said during the teleconference.

"The pork and pork products from these animals will be destroyed," Peterson said. Each year, more than 105 million hogs are slaughtered in the United States, the AP noted.

Elder also announced that the FDA has been granted visas to go to China to look for the sources of the contamination.

On Thursday, China banned melamine from its food products, but rejected the charge that the substance caused the pet deaths, the AP reported.

China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that there was no evidence to support the FDA's claim but that it would cooperate with the United States to find out what actually killed the animals.

"At present, there is no clear evidence showing that melamine is the direct cause of the poisoning or death of the pets," the statement said. "China is willing to strengthen cooperation with the U.S. side ... to find out the real cause leading to the pet deaths in order to protect the health of the pets of the two countries."

An unknown number of dogs and cats have been sickened or died after eating chemical-laced pet food.

from The Atlanta Journal Constituion
By Stephen J. Hedges/Mary Ann Fergus, Chicago Tribune

SATURDAY, April 28 - Washington -- The tainted pet food scare, which has swelled into a serious crisis for animal lovers, now has spread to humans.

California officials have revealed that the contamination got into the food chain: About 45 state residents ate pork from hogs that consumed animal feed laced with melamine from China. Melamine is used to make plastics, but it also artificially boosts the protein level — and thus the price — of the glutens that go into food.

It was already fatal for some pets: 17 cats and dogs are confirmed dead, more have likely died without being reported, thousands have suffered kidney problems, and 57 brands of cat food and 83 brands of dog food have been recalled. On top of that, about 6,000 hogs will be destroyed because they ate tainted feed.

The effects of melamine on people are thought to be minimal, but no one really knows. Its consumption by humans is considered so improbable that no one has even studied it.

But they are studying now. What last month was a limited recall of canned pet food is on the verge of becoming a full-fledged public health scare, raising troubling questions about U.S. food safety in the global economy and in the post-Sept. 11 era.

The Food and Drug Administration, criticized by some in Congress for responding too slowly, is struggling to catch up with the implications of the spread of melamine-contaminated glutens from China to hogs, and the human food chain. The FDA is still trying to get its investigators into China, where a skeptical government only last week assented to investigators' visa requests.

Critics say the outbreak reveals the shortcomings of a weakened food safety bureaucracy, the inadequacy of existing regulations and the inability of the FDA to protect the food supply.

In a statement, the FDA said that "food safety funding" for the year ending last Sept. 30 "was $376 million." But funding for the agency's Center for Food Safety has dropped from $48 million in 2003 to about $30 million in 2006, according to the center's 2006 budget priority statement. Full-time jobs in the Center for Food Safety have also been cut from 950 in 2003 to about 820 in 2006.

The melamine-laced food reached hogs because surplus pet food — broken food bits rejected as unsuitable for dogs or cats — was sent to hog farms and turned into feed. The FDA says bulk shipments of feed were delivered to hog farmers in California, Utah, Ohio, Kansas, Oklahoma, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina.

FDA investigators must now determine exactly how widespread the problem is and how it began.

see also:
* what's for dinner?
* Import Alert IA9929
* we don't know means we don't know
* dangerous products
* What's in YOUR pantry
* It's not just a "pet food" story
* ASPCA Pet Food Recall List
* It's bigger than you think

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