The Pet Food Recall: One Year After

It’s been about a year since the start of the massive recall of dog and cat food which involved most of the best-known brand names in pet food. There have been a couple of indictments:

KANSAS CITY–Two Chinese businesses and a U.S. company have been indicted in the tainted pet food incidents that killed potentially thousands of animals last year and hurt the bottom line of a Mississauga supplier.

Menu Foods Income Fund estimated the cost of recalling 60 million cans and pouches of wet pet food last year at $55 million.

Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co.; Suzhou Textiles, Silk, Light Industrial Products Arts and Crafts I/E Co.; and Las Vegas-based ChemNutra Inc. were charged in two separate but related indictments.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas City said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received consumer reports suggesting 1,950 cats and 2,200 dogs died after eating food contaminated with the toxic chemical melamine.

U.S. Attorney John Wood said authorities haven’t been able to substantiate all those reports. One of the indictments charges Xuzhou Anying Biologic, located in China’s Jiangsu Province, and Suzhou Textiles, in Suzhou, China, with 13 felony counts of introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce and 13 felony counts of introduction of misbranded food into interstate commerce.

The indictment also names Mao Linzhun, Xuzhou’s owner, and Zhen Hao Chen, Suzhou’s president.

ChemNutra and company owners Sally Quing Miller, a Chinese national, and her husband, Stephen Miller, were charged with 13 misdemeanour counts of introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce, 13 misdemeanour counts of introduction of misbranded food into interstate commerce and one felony count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Each of the felony counts against the Chinese defendants is punishable by up to three years in prison. The misdemeanour charges against ChemNutra and its owners are each punishable by up to a year in prison, while the felony conspiracy count carries a maximum sentence of five years.

The indictments allege that Suzhou Textiles, an export broker, mislabelled 800 tonnes of tainted wheat gluten manufactured by Xuzhou to avoid inspection in China. Suzhou then did not properly declare the contaminated product it shipped to the U.S. as a material to be used in food, it says.

It also says the shipment was falsely declared to the Chinese government in a way that would avoid a mandatory inspection of the company’s plants.

“The defendants intended to deceive the Chinese government in addition to consumers,” Wood said.

According to the indictment, ChemNutra picked up the melamine-tainted product at a port of entry in Kansas City, then sold it to makers of various brands of pet foods.

Xuzhou added the melamine to boost the protein content of the gluten to meet the requirements specified in Suzhou’s contract with ChemNutra, it says.

Wood said adding the melamine, which would allow it to pass chemical inspections for protein content, was cheaper than actually adding protein to the gluten.

“Millions of pet owners remember the anxiety of last year’s pet food recall. These indictments are the product of an investigation that began in the wake of that recall,” Wood said.

A few facts to keep in mind with respect to the pet food recall:

  • The recall resulted in the largest number of consumer complaints in the history of the FDA.
  • A definitive finding as to the cause of the deaths of the pets has never been made. It’s highly suspected that melamine and other related industrial waste products (some commonly used as fertilizer in China) interacted when ingested as food.
  • Very little has been done to prevent a similar future incident, even one that might involve human food.
  • It could happen again.

We’ve changed dog food twice since then, once when we learned that the premium brand we’d fed our dogs for years was contaminated and again when the food to which we’d made a transition didn’t agree with our dogs. I doubt we’ll ever trust a pet food manufacturer as much as we did before the recall.

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