Friday, 20 April 2007
Keep An Eye on Pet Food Recall Stories
UPDATE: "Criminal Probe Opened in Pet Food Scare: FDA Says Charges Possible; Tainted Pork Confirmed in Calif.," Washington Post, April 22: "The Food and Drug Administration has opened a criminal investigation in the widening pet food contamination scandal, officials said yesterday, as it was confirmed that tainted pork might have made its way onto human dinner plates in California." (I'm feeling prescient. This is just the TIP of the iceberg since labs still haven't gotten to the bottom of what's sickening pets and could sicken people. I suspect the Chinese add melamine (and more?) to cheaply boost protein numbers in glutens, and also that their factories are filthy cesspools of cross-contamination.)
ORIGINAL: Even if you don't have a pet, you'll be concerned by growing evidence that human foods could be contaminated. Further, the FDA is being barred by the Chinese government from investigating the Chinese plants that produced the tainted wheat gluten. This is KEY because the same Chinese plant that sold tainted wheat gluten (an additive in countless processed foods) also exports "carrots, garlic, ginger, corn protein powder, vegetables and feed." And now we've learned that rice and corn glutens are contaminated. Here's more new information:
- "Humans at risk from tainted pet food?," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Federal officials confirmed Thursday they are investigating whether pork products intended for humans are contaminated with the same industrial chemical that prompted a massive pet food recall and sickened cats and dogs nationwide. Researchers also have identified three other contaminants in the urine and kidneys of animals sickened or killed after eating the recalled foods, including cyanuric acid, a chemical commonly used in pool chlorination, three researchers told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Cyanuric acid is what most likely sickened pets, one researcher said.
Melamine previously was found in the recalled pet food and two ingredients -- wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate -- as well as in the urine, blood, kidneys and tissues of infected animals. [...]
The Trib learned yesterday that melamine-contaminated feed was fed to hogs.The FDA, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture are investigating. [...]
[Some hogs] were slaughtered and sold as food before authorities learned their feed had been contaminated. ...
[T]he urine of some pigs at the 1,500-animal American Hog Farm in Ceres, Calif., tested positive for melamine, ...
The contaminated feed was bought April 3 and 13 as salvage pet food from Diamond Pet Foods Inc., which received contaminated rice protein concentrate. ...
Diamond Pet Foods Inc. is a large mass-producer of pet foods like Menu Foods. Diamond makes the Kirkland family of pet foods sold to Costco.
Melamine has been "found in South African Royal Canin products containing corn gluten from Chinese source." Via Itchmo blog, from SouthAfrica.com about the 30 pet deaths reported so far in South Africa:
An independent pathologist, Professor Fred Reyers said the outbreak may not be an isolated incident. He believed there was sufficient evidence to suggest a link between this outbreak and a similar one in Cape Town as well as one in the United States.
Itchmo blog's Ben adds:
We were tracking cases of the South African pet deaths before and have heard rumors of corn gluten contamination.
At this point, we believe that all corn gluten should be considered at risk for contamination and should be tested by every pet food manufacturer and the FDA.
The FDA "has yet to test corn gluten after South Africa’s findings of melamine in corn gluten from China," agency representatives conceded at yesterday's press conference.
The specific product recalls -- with more daily -- are too numerous to list here. The best thing to do is check Itchmo's site frequently because Ben has reliably and quickly posted all significant news. You can also sign up for Ben's safety alerts.
Howl911 is also doing a great job tracking recall news, and its staff has created a list of recalled products that is more accurate, and easier to follow, than the FDA's.
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review also has this report on the recalcitrance of the Chinese, "Chinese criticized in pet food probe."
The Chinese government and the company that supplied a contaminated ingredient are slowing the federal investigation into the nationwide recall of pet food, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration official said Tuesday.
Michael Rogers, director of the FDA's field investigations division, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the agency has asked the Chinese government for help investigating the gluten and the supplier, Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd., based in Jiangsu province.
The FDA is disappointed with slow and incomplete Chinese responses, Rogers said.
"I usually don't speak in terms of cooperative or not cooperative," he said.
Federal investigators haven't determined whether Xuzhou Anying shipped other food products to the United States, or what other Chinese companies it sold wheat gluten to that, in turn, might have been shipped here, Rogers said.
Xuzhou Anying's Web site said it also exports carrots, garlic, ginger, corn protein powder, vegetables and feed. Rogers said Chinese officials have not responded to the U.S. government's question about whether any products other than wheat gluten were shipped here.
"We're certainly reviewing all products from this source," he said. Since the recall, the company has shipped only wheat gluten to the United States, but U.S. officials still are unsure what might have been shipped prior to the recall, Rogers said.
"From an operational standpoint, we still have questions about this company," he said.
The FDA is screening all wheat gluten imported from China and the Netherlands at U.S. ports and seizing all wheat gluten from Xuzhou Anying.
The FDA, Cornell and other researchers found melamine in high concentrations in the gluten -- up to 6.6 percent of the product.
Even so, they do not believe the melamine made the animals sick, although they said it is a marker for tracking the outbreak, because the crystal found in the melamine and in animals' urine and tissue is distinctive to this outbreak.
In other words, nobody knows yet what is killing cats and dogs, or may be harming humans.
The best advice I've seen, from reading many articles and blog posts, is to buy locally and organically.
Even reading labels isn't a guarantee because there is little oversight over what companies list in their labels.
Sen. Dick Durbin has been a leader in calling for greater oversight by the FDA over imported foods. From his Web site:
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) met with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach on Wednesday, April 18, 2007 in Durbin's Capitol office to discuss the latest recall of pet food, this time caused by contaminated rice protein imported from China.
In his press release on the meeting, Durbin says:
In the meeting, Durbin and DeLauro learned that the Chinese Government has blocked requests from the FDA to send personnel to China to inspect the facilities suspected of producing the contaminated products. The FDA first contacted the Chinese Government on April 4, 2007, but have not been granted permission to send food inspectors into the country. In response, Durbin and DeLauro sent a letter to the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, Zhou Wenzong, urging the Chinese Government to issue visas to U.S. food inspectors as quickly as possible.
"It is unacceptable that the Chinese government is blocking our food safety inspectors from entering their country and examining facilities that are suspected of providing contaminated pet food to American consumers," said Durbin. "We have asked for two things in our letter today -- that the Chinese government allow our inspectors in and that the Chinese ambassador to the United States meet with Congresswoman DeLauro and me to discuss the larger issue of contaminated food being sent to the U.S. These are reasonable requests and we hope that we can find a level of cooperation with the Chinese."
"At time when China is exporting more foods into the U.S., the Chinese are refusing to allow our inspectors in to the country to investigate the source of the pet food contamination. The FDA needs to be allowed to investigate this so we can better protect our pets and identify the source of the source of the problem. While we have a significant trade relationship with the Chinese, the investigation of the contaminated product comes first," said DeLauro.
Durbin calls for a single agency to oversee food safety:
Durbin and DeLauro have been actively engaged on food safety issues for over a decade. This Congress they introduced legislation that calls for the development of a single food safety agency and the implementation of a food safety program to standardize American food safety activities (The Safe Food Act - S. 654 and H.R. 1148 in the Senate and House respectively). The Illinois senator said legislation he has introduced to consolidate all federal food safety responsibilities into a single, independent agency has taken on new urgency because of a possibly heightened need to respond quickly and effectively to any acts of bioterrorism or agroterrorism. Currently, there are at least 12 different federal agencies and 35 different laws governing food safety. With overlapping jurisdictions, federal agencies often lack accountability on food safety-related issues.
The non-partisan U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) has been unequivocal in its recommendation for consolidation of federal food safety programs. In February of this year, the GAO deemed federal oversight of food safety as "high risk" to the economy and public health and safety. Over the past two decades, GAO has also issued numerous reports on topics such as food recalls, food safety inspections and the transport of animal feeds. Each of these reports highlights the current fragmentation and inconsistent organization of the various agencies involved in food safety oversight.