Today’s Update on the Pet Food Recall—5/1/2007

Once again there’s plenty of news to report on this story. Unfortunately.

The FDA has broadened the import alert to include wheat gluten, rice gluten, rice protein, rice protein concentrate, corn gluten, corn gluten meal, corn by-products, soy protein, soy gluten, proteins, and mung bean protein. The full text of the import alert is here. Here’s the recommended action (or “guidance”):

Districts may detain without physical examination, all Vegetable protein products from China.

At this point I think that’s prudent. Overdue, even. There’s rather chilling news:

As of April 26, 2007, FDA had collected approximately 750 samples of wheat gluten and products made with wheat gluten and, of those tested thus far, 330 were positive for melamine and/or melamine related compounds. FDA had also collected approximately 85 samples of rice protein concentrate and products made with rice protein concentrate and, of those tested thus far, 27 were positive for melamine and/or melamine related compounds. FDA’s investigation has traced all of the positive samples as having been imported from China.

Or, simply stated, nearly half of the wheat gluten samples tested and nearly a third of the rice product samples tested contained melamine i.e. were deliberately or inadvertently fraudulent.

The contaminated Chinese vegetable protein has definitely entered the human food supply:

WASHINGTON — Chicken feed in some farms in Indiana contained byproducts from pet food manufactured with contaminated wheat gluten imported from China, two federal agencies said Monday.

The Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration said in a joint statement that officials learned of the link between the chicken feed and tainted pet food as part of the investigation into imported rice protein concentrate and wheat gluten that have been found to contain the industrial chemical melamine and related compounds.

An estimated 30 broiler poultry farms and eight breeder poultry farms in Indiana received contaminated feed in early February and fed it to poultry within days of receiving it, the agencies said. Other farms will probably be identified as having received contaminated feed, they added.

All the broilers believed to have been fed contaminated products have been processed, while the breeders are under voluntary hold by flock owners, the agencies said.

The FDA and USDA said the likelihood of human illness from eating chicken fed the contaminated product is very low. With no evidence of harm to humans, no recall of poultry products processed from these animals was being issued, the agencies said.

Short version: chickens have been fed with contaminated vegetable protein, processed, and may be sitting on your dinner table. The FDA doesn’t know whether it’s safe or not but, what the heck, let ‘er fly! Sheesh. Shades of The Jungle.

It seems to me that “Harmless unless proven harmful” is far too low a standard for food ingredients. Where is the National Institute of Health on this? It seems to me that an epidemiological study checking a correlation of conditions ranging from kidney disorders to malnutrition and obesity with the change in the amount of vegetable proteins imported from China over the last, say, 25 years is urgently needed. What is the effect of consuming melamine in your food over a period of years? We just don’t know.

I don’t know what caused the deaths and injuries of cats and dogs from eating the contaminated pet foods and neither does the FDA. In Menu Foods’s laboratory tests back in February some of the animals died within three days of the start of testing. If you don’t what did cause them, you can’t say for certain what didn’t cause them. The most you can say is that you don’t know.

Finally, to brighten up your day, here’s an article from The Boston Globe on how little inspection is done of food and food ingredients imported from overseas.

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