The Baltimore Sun’s Jonathan D. Rockoff is reporting that U.S. authorities are investigating whether the melamine was added in China for financial reasons (are probing whether Chinese producers laced a key ingredient in pet food with an industrial chemical in order to boost the price of their shipments, Sen. Richard J. Durbin said yesterday.
Referring to the contamination that has prompted the recall of more than 100 brands of pet food, he said investigators are trying to determine whether Chinese producers purposely added melamine to their wheat gluten shipments to Menu Foods.
“It could have been intentional, not accidental,” Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said in an interview after meeting privately in his office with federal health officials. “Economic fraud is a theory” the investigators are pursuing, Durbin said.
The Food and Drug Administration found melamine, a plastic component whose use is not approved in food, in pets that died. Investigators traced the melamine to wheat gluten, shipped from China, that is used to thicken pet food.
According to Durbin, investigators are examining whether Chinese manufacturers added nitrogen-rich melamine to wheat gluten in order to raise its nitrogen level. Nitrogen levels are measured to calculate the protein content, which determines the value of a shipment.
Over the last few days, as news of this has circulated, we’ve been hearing a tremendous clamoring to have the companies to whom the concentrate was shipped named publicly. And Wilbur-Ellis is asking those companies to stand up and do the right thing. But Wilbur-Ellis knows who they are, and presumably so does the FDA; why are we having to shame the companies into naming themselves? Isn’t the FDA supposed to be protecting us? I listened in on the FDA press conference a few Fridays ago, in which we were assured that they’d let us know anything they found out as soon as possible. They haven’t so far, and they aren’t now.
How many of you out there would like to know the names of those other companies, so you can decide for yourself if you want to risk feeding their products to your pets? I’m just curious.
Update: USA Today’s Julie Schmit just reported that “Procter & Gamble (PG), owner of the Iams and Eukanuba brands, has set out its ‘promise’ to consumers that it will, in effect, exert more control over Menu Foods, the Canadian company that makes the Iams and Eukanuba wet foods for P&G.” She wrote:
Sen. Durbin’s office sent over a media release, which is not yet now up on the Senator’s Web site:
U.S.Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) today met with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, Andrew von Eschenbach in Durbin’s Capitol office to discuss the latest recall of pet food, this time caused by contaminated rice protein imported from China.
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.
An industrial chemical that led to the nationwide recall of more than 100 brands of cat and dog food has turned up in a second pet food ingredient imported from China.
The discovery expands the monthlong cascade of recalls to include more brands and varieties of pet foods and treats tainted by the chemical.
"This has exposed that the safety standards for pet foods are not in place in any significant way and the kind of drumbeat, day after day, of recalls has shaken consumers' confidence in the pet food industry's adherence to food safety standards," said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States.
The chemical, melamine, is believed to have contaminated rice protein concentrate used to make a variety of Natural Balance Pet Foods products for both dogs and cats, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.
Previously, the chemical was found to contaminate wheat gluten used by at least six other pet food and treat manufacturers.
Both ingredients were imported from China, though by different companies and from different manufacturers.
A lawmaker said Wednesday the Chinese have refused to grant visas to FDA inspectors seeking to visit the plants where the ingredients were made. An FDA spokesman later said the visas were not refused but that the agency had not received the necessary invitation letter to get visas.
"It troubles me greatly the Chinese are making it more difficult to understand what led to this pet food crisis," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told The Associated Press after meeting with the FDA commissioner, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach.
A message left Wednesday with the Chinese Embassy in Washington was not immediately returned.
Natural Balance said it was recalling all its Venison and Brown Rice canned and bagged dog foods, its Venison and Brown Rice dog treats and its Venison and Green Pea dry cat food.
The recalls now include products made by at least seven companies and sold under more than 100 brands.
The Pacoima, Calif., company said recent laboratory tests showed its recalled products contain melamine. Natural Balance believes the source of the contaminant was rice protein concentrate, which the company recently added to the dry venison formulas.
A San Francisco company, Wilbur-Ellis Co., began importing the ingredient in July from a Chinese company, Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd., according to Wilbur-Ellis president and chief executive John Thacher.
It resold the ingredient to five pet food manufacturers, including Diamond Pet Foods Inc. of Meta, Mo. Diamond manufactured the dry dog and cat foods recalled by Natural Balance, Diamond Pet Foods spokesman Jim Fallon said.
Thacher declined to identify his company's other four customers, except to say two tested the ingredient and found no melamine. Wilbur-Ellis has not heard from the other two, both of whom received limited amounts of the ingredient, Thacher said.
The source of the melamine remains unclear. It may have contaminated the rice protein through the reuse of dirty bags used to ship the products.
Thacher said an April 4 delivery from Futian Biology included 146 1-ton bags of rice protein concentrate. All were white except for a single pink bag, which was stenciled "melamine."
Wilbur-Ellis isolated the entire shipment at a Portland, Ore. warehouse and sent out samples for testing. The pink bag's contents tested positive for melamine while the two white bags tested were negative, Thacher said.
He said Futian Biology said "bags had gotten damaged and they replaced them with clean bags and certified the product was all fine."
The Las Vegas importer of the contaminated Chinese wheat gluten, ChemNutra Inc., that led to the original pet food recall has suggested that spiking a product with melamine can make it to appear to be richer in protein during tests, thus increasing its value.
ChemNutra also imported rice protein concentrate from China, though from another source. Spokesman Steve Stern said the company is testing those shipments.
The recalls began March 16 when Menu Foods recalled 60 million cans of dog and cat food after the deaths of 16 pets, mostly cats, that had eaten its products. The FDA said tests indicated the food was contaminated with melamine, which is used in making plastics and other industrial processes.
Five other companies later recalled pet products also made with wheat gluten tainted by the chemical. The FDA has since blocked Chinese imports of wheat gluten.
Menu Foods continues to add more varieties to its recall list. Menu Foods spokesman Sam Bornstein did not know if the Streetsville, Ontario-based company also used rice protein concentrate as an ingredient in its pet foods, sold under more than 100 different major and store brands.
A House committee is holding a food safety hearing Tuesday and is expected to discuss the pet food recall.