FDA Broadens Probe of Tainted Pet Food
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The trouble with tainted pet food may be moving into human food. The Food and Drug Administration is expanding its testing for the chemical linked to pet food poisoning, and thousands of hogs in half a dozen states were under quarantine.
NPR's Julie Rovner reports.
JULIE ROVNER: Stephen Sundlof, head of FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, told reporters about the expanding web of animals caught up in the pet food problems in a teleconference yesterday afternoon.
Mr. STEPHEN SUNDLOF (Director, Center for Veterinary Medicine): As part of our work tracing the contaminated products from the importers to the pet food manufacturers, FDA learned that some of the contaminated pet food was sent as salvaged feed to various farm producers in several states, including North Carolina, California, South Carolina, New York, Utah, and possibly Ohio.
ROVNER: The salvaged feed was sent before the recall. Sundlof said, so far, hogs in North and South Carolina and California have tested positive for melamine, the chemical that's been implicated in the tainted pet food. Tainted feed may also have been fed to chickens in Missouri. Because melamine has now been found in not just wheat gluten, but also rice protein, FDA is also expanding its testing of a wide variety of corn, soy and rice products typically used to boost protein in foods. David Acheson is the chief medical officer for FDA's Center for Food Safety.
Mr. DAVID ACHESON (Chief Medical Officer, Center for Food Safety, FDA): These different types of ingredients are used in a whole range of human food, typically things like bread, pastas, cereals, pizza dough.
ROVNER: Acheson says there's no evidence that anything other than the already identified shipments of contaminated wheat gluten and rice protein are involved. But he says all the ingredients now under investigation have one main thing in common.
Mr. ACHESON: In terms of countries of origin, we're really interested in protein concentrate that were manufactured in China.
ROVNER: That's because there's a growing hypothesis about why melamine, which is normally used to make plastic, might have gotten into products intended for pet food. Paul Henderson is CEO of Menu Foods, which made most of the dog and cat food that's been recalled. He testified at a congressional hearing yesterday that he thinks the melamine didn't get there by accident.
Mr. PAUL HENDERSON (CEO, Menu Foods): What this appears to be is a deliberate case of contamination of wheat gluten in order to pass off substandard product.
ROVNER: In this case, wheat gluten that's too low in protein. And melamine can solve that problem, Henderson said.
Mr. HENDERSON: Melamine is high in nitrogen, which is significant because the industry standard test for protein content in wheat gluten is based on the quantity of nitrogen.
ROVNER: Which makes the gluten appear higher in protein, even if it really isn't, and boosts the price of the product. The Chinese say they don't know how melamine got into their products. And only on Monday did China say the FDA would be allowed to inspect the Chinese facilities where the contaminated product came from. Still, David Elder, FDA's top enforcement official, said it was premature to talk about stopping all grain product imports from China.
Mr. DAVID ELDER (Director, FDA Office of Enforcement): It's not easy to condemn the exports from an entire country. At this point in time, we have two known firms that have exported contaminated wheat gluten and contaminated rice protein concentrate into the United States. No shipments from those two firms are being allowed entry into the country, and similar products from China are under 100 percent screening.
ROVNER: Meanwhile, yet another pet food company announced a recall yesterday. Smart Packs says one of its dog food products was made with a tainted rice protein concentrate.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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