Today’s Update on the Pet Food Recall—5/29/2007

The FDA has published its interim assessment of the risk to humans from eating fish, chicken, eggs, and pork contaminated with melamine and its analogues e.g. cyanuric acid. Here’s the executive summary:

This interim melamine and analogues safety/risk assessment describes the risk to human health associated with eating pork, chicken, fish and eggs from animals that had been inadvertently fed animal feed that may have been adulterated with melamine and its analogues (cyanuric acid, ammelide and ammeline). It was prepared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in collaboration with the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the Department of Agriculture, and in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). We developed this safety/risk assessment in response to our ongoing investigation of contaminated vegetable protein products imported from China that were mislabeled as “wheat gluten” and “rice protein concentrate.” Based on currently available data and information, the results of the safety/risk assessment indicate that the consumption of pork, chicken, domestic fish, and eggs from animals inadvertently fed animal feed contaminated with melamine and its analogues is very unlikely to pose a human health risk.

I don’t find this particularly reassuring for a number of reasons. First, cats and dogs died from eating contaminated pet food. That much is certain. Second, the assessment takes a bye on the combination of melamine and cyanuric acid, leaving it for future research. Third, it’s not completely obvious to me that the same thing can’t occur with human food. Bon Appétit!

In news that’s peripherally related the former head of the Chinese regulation agency has been sentenced to death for official corruption:

China’s former top drug regulator was sentenced to death Tuesday in an unusually harsh punishment for taking bribes to approve substandard medicines, including an antibiotic blamed for at least 10 deaths.

Seeking to address broadening concerns over food, the government also announced plans for its first recall system for unsafe products.

The developments are among the most dramatic steps Beijing has publicly taken to address domestic and international alarm over shoddy and unsafe Chinese goods – from pet food ingredients and toothpaste mixed with industrial chemicals to tainted antibiotics.

This is consistent with the prevailing narrative that’s been coming from the Chinese government that the problems including the contaminated wheat, rice, and corn gluten, ethylene glycol substituted for glycerin, and carcinogenic chemicals used as food dyes are just the work of a few unscrupulous individuals. News of harsh punishments meted out to those individuals would be reassuring in a grisly sort of way if I actually believed the prevailing official narrative. I don’t; I think that corruption in China isn’t episodic, it’s at least epidemic if not endemic. It is the system.

This report from New Zealand is a nice summary of the situation with respect to imports of Chinese foods, food additives, and pharmaceuticals. I think you’ll probably like this quote from the head of the Chinese company that made toothpaste that used diethylene glycol instead of glycerin to save a few pennies:

Hu Keyu, the manager at Goldcredit International in China, the company responsible for one of the brands said that most toothpaste makers in this region use diethylene glycol because it is considered a cheap substitute for glycerin.

“You know, if you’re in the export market, the margins are small, so people use the substitute,” he said. “Even one percent or half a percent price difference can matter to people here,” Hu.told the New York Times.

Or, said another way, it’s a jungle out there and you’ve got to get ahead any way you can.

5 comments… add one
  • I suspect that the Chinese execution is pure theater. “See? We did something.” Then it’ll be back to business as usual.

    I was analyzing diethylene glycol in glycerin last December from Central America, so that’s not an uncommon cheat (or “accident”).

    Although it’s sounding like there’s lots of this kind of stuff happening all of a sudden, it’s pretty much like this all the time. There’s a lot more media scrutiny since the melamine hit. People will just have to get used to checking the source of everything that they put into their mouths.

  • Katie Link

    hmmm. That FDA statement said exactly nothing. They took a lot of words to say it, but it didn’t really say anything.

  • Mary Link

    Executions haven’t exactly been unheard of in China. Rather than being an “ultimate demonstration of accountability”, it seems to be a quick and sure way to make the immediate problem go away. However, the idea that eliminating one person will eliminate corruption in the Chinese drug industry is like saying that getting rid of Bridget Fonda will eliminate all bad acting.

  • Pretty much my take, too, Mary. In correspondence on this subject my description of the execution has been: window dressing.

    The capital punishment process in China is pretty speedy and dead men tell no tales.

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