Today’s Update on the Pet Food Recall—4/20/2007

There have been several important developments in the pet food recall which continues to unfold. You may recall that yesterday I reported that there had been a recall of imported Chinese rice gluten which had also been found to be contaminated with melamine. This may have a broader impact than might have been initially imagined:

STANISLAUS COUNTY — A Stanislaus County hog farm was placed under quarantine after an industrial chemical that’s tainted more than 100 brands of dog and cat food was found in pig urine there, state agriculture officials said late Thursday.

Additional testing was under way to determine if the chemical, melamine, was present in the meat produced by American Hog Farm in Ceres since April 3, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

“Although all animals appear healthy, we are taking this action out of an abundance of caution,” State Veterinarian Dr. Richard Breitmeyer said in a statement. “It is unknown if the chemical will be detected in meat.”

State officials believe the melamine came from rice protein concentrate imported from China by Diamond Pet Food’s Lathrop facility, which produces products under the Natural Balance brand and sold salvage pet food to the farm for pig feed.

Unfortunately, that’s not all. A third product, also imported from China, has been determined to be contaminated with melamine:

Meanwhile in South Africa, melamine has been found in Royal Canin pet food company’s Vets Choice and Royal Canin dry dog and cat food sold exclusively in South Africa and Namibia. The source of the melamine appears to be from corn gluten imported from China, according to published reports.

The FDA believes that the pet food product contamination might be intentional. Melamine can make it appear that the protein content of the wheat or corn gluten or protein concentrate is higher than it actually is.

“We are aware that melamine can increase protein content,” Sundlof said. “It’s still a theory, but it seems to be a plausible one. The motivation would be economic in that you can take a product that is low in protein and would not qualify for the designation as protein supplement and make it appear that it has a high protein content so it can be sold at a higher price.”

Where things stand now

Three products, imported from China for use in pet foods through three different Chinese exporters, wheat gluten, rice gluten concentrate, and corn gluten, have all been determined to have been contaminated with melamine in an apparent attempt to make them appear to contain more protein that they actually do. It is not known how the products became contaminated but with three different products from three different suppliers showing the contamination it now strains credulity that the contamination was an isolated incident or that it was accidental.

More than 100 brands and varieties of pet food have been recalled. Fot details on what has been recalled see the following resources:

Menu Food Recall page
FDA Pet Food Recall page
AVMA Comprehensive List of Recalled Foods

We’re left with a number of unanswered questions:

  1. How did the wheat gluten, rice gluten concentrate, and corn gluten become contaminated with melamine? Melamine shouldn’t be present in these products in any quantity.
  2. Is melamine toxic to dogs and cats? Melamine has not been considered a toxin.
  3. If melamine isn’t toxic, what is causing the kidney failure and deaths in pets?
  4. Is melamine toxic to humans? If so, we’ve got an enormously larger problem before us. Melamine is used in dinnerware, cooking implements, and kitchen countertops both in private homes and commercially.
  5. Has melamine entered the human food supply? The FDA says “they have no reason to believe…”, etc., but that’s weaselly bureaucratese. I continue to see no way they can make that determination without knowing the scope of the problem (and, since additional products are being recalled nearly daily, it’s obvious they can’t identify the scope of the problem at this time), how the melamine got into the wheat gluten, rice gluten concentrate, and corn gluten, and where else the contamined products were sold.

Write your congressman. This is a serious problem.

6 comments… add one
  • I’m working on the rice stuff now. Amazing how fast that hit the news. There are actually four different related compounds that have been identified, some at percent levels.

    The test in food products for protein is a simple total nitrogen test; the added compounds are very high in nitrogen, skewing the test to make it look like there is more protein than there is. Processing to isolate the proteins is more expensive than adding this stuff I guess.

    It’s my understanding that one of the cats that was autopsied had melamine crystals in it’s kidneys. The compound is not very soluble, so when the kidney starts concentrating for elimination, it pops right out of solution. Dogs don’t seem to be as susceptible to this as cats. I don’t know about humans, but dogs and humans react more alike to drugs and other things than cats and humans. I’m glad I never fed any of the suspect stuff to my cats!

  • Thanks, jan. Stay in touch—I’m following every lead on this since I think it’s an important story and appreciate any additional info you might come across.

    I’d assumed they were doing a nitrogen test. What bugs me is that they don’t seem to be determining the mass. That’s a very basic test.

  • Katie Link

    It seems to me that they aren’t doing a lot of pretty basic tests–or if they are they aren’t advertising it.

    I hope that in the long run it makes the FDA a bit more accountable for the human food supply than they seem to be at the moment. I’m not sure that weaselly quite describes the way the FDA is behaving Dave. They aren’t even any good at CYA, how can we trust them with the food supply?

    You’re doing a great job with this, it’s a great one stop shopping spot for *all* the pet food issues.

    The comment on the cats with melamine crystals in the kidneys was interesting. Particularly in light of my vets comment that he’s seen a lot more dogs affected than cats. He did say that what he’s seen was about 180 out from what the rest of the country is reporting.

  • Teri Morris Link

    Thanks for the information on this topic I have 2 dogs in the hospital now that are in renal failure from the Natural Balance Venison and Brown Rice and am trying to soak up as much as I can on the issues.

  • Thanks for stopping by, Teri. Sorry to hear about your two. I hope they recover.

    Believe me, I know how upsetting and frightening this all is. My wife and I are dreadfully concerned that we’re feeding our dogs something that’s bad for them and, yet, I don’t think that cooking for them is a great solution to the problem, either. That, perhaps, is the most upsetting part—you don’t know what the best course of action really is.

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