FDA asks if pet food tainted on purpose

Imported ingredients used in recalled pet food may
have been intentionally spiked with an industrial chemical to boost their
apparent protein content, federal officials said
Thursday.

That’s one theory being pursued
by the Food and Drug Administration as it investigates how the chemical,
melamine, contaminated at least two ingredients used to make more than 100
brands of dog and cat foods.

In California, state agriculture officials placed a
hog farm under quarantine after melamine was found in pig urine there.
Additional testing was under way to determine whether the chemical was present
in the meat produced by American Hog Farm in Ceres since April 3, the state
Department of Food and Agriculture
said.

So far, melamine’s been found in
both wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate imported from China. Media
reports from South Africa suggest a third pet food ingredient, corn gluten, used
in that country also was contaminated with melamine. That tainted ingredient has
not been found in the United States, the FDA
said.

FDA investigators were awaiting
visas that would allow them to visit the Chinese plants where the vegetable
protein ingredients were
produced.

“Melamine was found in all
three of those — it would certainly lend credibility to the theory that it
may be intentional. That will be one of the theories we will pursue when we get
into the plants in China,” Stephen Sundlof, the FDA’s chief veterinarian, told
reporters.

Chinese authorities have told
the FDA that the wheat gluten was an industrial product not meant for pet food,
Sundlof said. Still, melamine can skew test results to make a product appear
more protein-rich than it really is, he added. That raises the possibility the
contamination was deliberate.

“What we
expect to do with our inspections in China will answer some of those questions,”
said Michael Rogers (news, bio, voting record), director of the division of
field investigations within the FDA’s office of regulatory
affairs.

Wilbur-Ellis Co., the U.S.
importer of the tainted rice protein, said Thursday it was recalling all the
ingredient it had distributed to five U.S. pet food manufacturers. The San
Francisco company in turn urged its customers to recall any products that may be
on store shelves.

So far, just two of
those companies have done so: Natural Balance Pet Foods and Blue Buffalo
Co.

Natural Balance, of Pacoima, Calif.,
announced a limited recall Monday of its Venison and Brown Rice canned and
bagged dog foods, Venison and Brown Rice dog treats and Venison and Green Pea
dry cat food.

Blue Buffalo, of Wilton,
Conn., followed Thursday by recalling 5,044 bags of its Spa Select Kitten dry
food. The company intercepted most of the kitten food before it reached
distribution centers, company co-founder Billy Bishop
said.

FDA officials would not release the
names of the other two manufacturers that Wilbur-Ellis supplied, citing its
ongoing investigation.

The FDA could not
provide updated numbers of pet deaths or injuries due to the contaminated pet
food. The agency has received more than 15,000 calls since the first recall was
announced more than a month ago.

The FDA
and Agriculture Department also were investigating whether some pet food made by
one of the five companies supplied by Wilbur-Ellis was diverted for use as hog
feed after it was found unsuitable for pet
consumption.

“We understand it did make
it into some hog feed and we are following up on that as well,” Sundlof
said.

Later Thursday, California
officials said they believe the melamine at the quarantined hog farm came from
rice protein concentrate imported from China by Diamond Pet Food’s Lathrop
facility, which produces products under the Natural Balance brand and sold
salvage pet food to the farm for pig
feed.

“Although all animals appear
healthy, we are taking this action out of an abundance of caution,” State
Veterinarian Richard Breitmeyer said in a statement. “It is unknown if the
chemical will be detected in
meat.”

Officials were investigating
American Hog Farm’s sales records to determine who may be affected by the
quarantine, said Steve Lyle, a spokesman for the California Department of Food
and Agriculture. The 1,500-animal farm operates as a “custom slaughterhouse,”
which means it generally does not supply meat to commercial
outlets.

“Mostly it is not so-called
mainstream pork. This is an operation that sells to folks who come in and want a
whole pig,” said Lyle said.

Officials
urged those who purchased pigs from American Hog Farm since April 3 to not
consume the product until further
notice.

Dr. Mark Horton, state public
health officer, said so far “evidence suggests a minimal health risk to persons
who may have consumed pork” from the
farm.

A man who answered the phone for
American Hog Farm late Thursday declined to comment and referred calls to state
officials. Phone calls to Diamond Pet Food’s Lathrop facility and Meta, Mo.,
headquarters were not immediately
returned.

___

On
the Net:

Food and Drug Administration pet
food recall info:

http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/petfood.html


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Posted: 04/20/2007 at 09:35 AM
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Posted: 04/20/2007 at 09:35 AM
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