Today’s Update on the Pet Food Recall—5/25/2007

Menu Foods is suing ChemNutra over ChemNutra’s sale to Menu Foods of pet food ingredients imported from China that were contaminated with melamine:

A lawsuit was filed on Monday by Menu food as a result of the tainted pet food ingredient that was supplied to them by ChemNutra, Inc. Menu Foods is now asking for damages substantially in excess of $75, 000. ChemNutra fired back the claim that Menu Foods waited weeks prior to advising them of potential problems. The pet food ingredient, wheat gluten, contained melamine, which is a toxic chemical used in plastics and pesticides.

Referencing the Chinese, ChemNutra made the following claim “We are concerned that we may have been the victim of deliberate and mercenary contamination,” In a game of pointing fingers everywhere but at themselves, ChemNutra, with respect to Menu Foods, went on to say “They didn’t tell us or the public what they knew and when they knew it. “If Menu Foods had acted as a responsible corporate citizen, Menu Foods could have saved consumers – and pet owners, specifically – needless pain and suffering.”

A number of things interested me about this information. First, why $75,000? Is it possible that’s the cost of the defective “wheat gluten” that Menu Foods purchased from ChemNutra? Sounds like an extremely small fraction of the $60 million cost I’ve seen thrown around about the recall.

Second, look at this article. With the exception of the headline to my eye it looks as though it’s the same word-for-word as the other cited article from a law firm’s blog. The headline itself is interesting: “Chinese ChemNutra Sued by Menu Food”. ChemNutra on its web site advertises itself as minority-owned. Can foreign companies or companies owned wholly or mostly by foreign nationals with overseas residence qualify for minority-ownership (and, consequently, for certain kinds of breaks from U. S. governments)?

Although the complaints attributed to ChemNutra sound notes similar to points I’ve made here, it should be noted that ChemNutra advertises itself as expert in dealing with Chinese companies (from the company’s web site, cited above):

ChemNutra imports high-quality nutritional and pharmaceutical chemicals from China to the US. We purchase our inventory from quality-assured manufacturers in China; most of whom we have strong relationships over the past twelve years. Our US customers are manufacturers of food, pet food, and nutritional ingredients, who want high quality, the best service, and the most competitive prices.

The ingredients we import include amino acids, preservatives, nutritional minerals, proteins, flavor enhancers, and sweeteners.

The principals of ChemNutra have exported large quantities of feed and food ingredients from China to manufacturers in the US and elsewhere worldwide. Annually, our volume exceeds 4,000 tons of Amino Acids and other quality ingredients.

In that context ChemNutra’s complaints sound dreadfully like a cry for help, “Stop us before we import again!” In all seriousness this point can’t be emphasized enough: quality assurance needs to occur at every step in a process. It’s not enough to rely on the Chinese growers or manufacturers or exporters or the domestic importers or the domestic brands or retailers for quality assurance. The Chinese growers and the Chinese manufacturers and the Chinese importers and the domestic importers and the domestic brands need to be engaging in quality assurance.

My guess, too, is that Menu Foods will reasonably make the claim that they wouldn’t have done business with ChemNutra except that they believed that ChemNutra could stand behind the companies from which it was importing.

It’s not just ChemNutra but the Chinese, too, who are blaming U. S. companies:

BEIJING — Fed up with weeks of Americans bashing their food safety standards, Chinese government and industry officials say that bargain-hunting U.S. food companies share blame if contaminated Chinese ingredients wind up in food.

More than two months after the USA began a massive pet-food recall, since linked to contaminated ingredients imported from China, business and government officials in China are investigating what went wrong and promising improvement in a country where mass poisonings from tainted foods have been common. But they also say they’re not the only ones who need to take more responsibility.

“Officials like me in the Chinese government can supervise the producers here, but U.S. companies doing business with Chinese companies must also be very clear about the standards they need, and don’t just look for a cheap price,” says Yuan Changxiang, a deputy director in the ministry responsible for inspecting imports and exports.

Jin Zemin, general manager of Shanghai Kaijin Bio-Tech, which specializes in wheat gluten, agrees. U.S. importers “want cheaper prices, but that can come at a cost,” he says. “You should know exactly where the products you buy are coming from. Don’t just look at the price.”

or, said more simply, “Buyer beware!”. Is a standard really required when you think you’re buying wheat gluten and you’re actually buying wheat flour doped with melamine? Or that glycerin should be glycerin and not diethylene glycol? In Menu Foods’s defense and judging by ChemNutra’s web site, that’s what Menu Foods thought it was doing. That’s why I favor country-of-origin labelling laws.

The USDA and HHS have issued a joint statement of requests by the U. S. government of the government of the People’s Republic of China including details of testing and inspection procedures, registration of exporting companies, and lists of registered companies. I would add this matter to the already-lengthy list of complaints that the U. S. has made about China with the WTO, but that probably explains why I’m not a diplomat.

7 comments… add one
  • Katie Link

    Somewhat off topic, but related, I listened to a blurb this morning on NPR about the FDA and their inspection practices. I may not get my figures right, but they have something like 600 inspectors that need to look at 600,000 facilities, and that they count on manufacturers to police themselves and “do the right thing”. Frightening.

    In a way, this pet food issue has brought a lot of other food safety related problems to the forefront, and that can’t be all bad.

  • Dennis Link

    Oh, oh. Recent studies indicating men taking higher doses of multi-vitamins experiencing higher rates of prostate cancer and this information about, “imports high-quality nutritional and pharmaceutical chemicals from China to the US.” This line should cheer every one up, “The ingredients we import include amino acids, preservatives, nutritional minerals, proteins, flavor enhancers, and sweeteners.”

    It might be another example of our pets once again warning us of unseen danger.

  • Hmmm, “high-quality”… “from China.” There’s an oxymoron in there somewhere…

    Having analyzed stuff from China for 17 years, I can say that high-quality and Chinese products don’t often collide. But then, I usually get the stuff that looks funny or has known problems, so my sampling is a bit biased. However, one of their latest schemes involves coming up with designer analogs to ED drugs in order to defeat our patent drug laws and attempt to by-pass our new drug application requirements, so they aren’t exactly innocent, no matter what they claim.

  • China’s attitude towards our intellectual property law is something I’ve touched on from time to time, jan. IMO we should be taking a much harder line on the subject than we are.

  • James Link

    Are we still on the pet food thing? I thought that had been eclipsed by the TD Clycerin scandal… (See”Wikipedia’s “toxic cough syrup” article… ) Taixing chemical company has been selling ethylene glycol as pure glycerin and the substitute went undetected as long as it was being used to make cheap printing inks but when it started to go into medicines there was a little problem…Most of the dead people have been Bengladeshis and Panamanians so it may be hard to get real numbers but my impression is that the Chinese company’s profits come to a few cents per death. Taixing’s website is still up announcing the same product at the same rock-bottom price (although it’s my understanding that the building pictured on the website is not really theirs). The Chinese government says it’s no concern of theirs since the company was not licensed to sell pharmaceuticals and, anyway, it was all for export…

    Caveat Emptor

  • Elijah Link

    The lawsuit is IN EXCESS of $75,000. They dont need to make a specific demand at this point as they are still gathering evidence. The reason for the excess of $75,000 is to place it in federal court, which for some reason they think they will get a better choice of venue.

    If Menu foods is contacting claimants who are represented by counsel, they are handling claims in bad faith and this could bring punitive damages, on top of any monetary awards.

    However, if Menu foods is contacting claimants who have not informed Menu of being represented by counsel, or their attorney has not contacted Menu, then Menu should receive a “release of all claims” in exchange for any payment made on the claim. This would indeed waive customers right to future claims, which is standard in most settlement agreements.

    Keep in mind that this is a property damage claim. Therefore plaintiffs are not entitled to emotional distress, missed time from work, etc. By law, this claim is the same as having a windstorm rip the roof of your house. You may have it replaced or have it paid at actual cash value, depending upon your home policy.

    I find it interesting that Menu lists the different “Class Action Attorney’s” on their website! Menu would rather you obtain a lawyer because the payout will be much less. And ofcourse, the lawyers will get all the money and the plaintiff’s will most likely not see a penney. Remeber the class action asbestos lawsuit years ago? Enough said….

    Bottom line, if you can settle a claim with Menu directly, you will fare much better than participating in class action suit.

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