How Chinese ingredients contaminated U.S. pet foods

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2007:

BEIJING–How and why melamine came to contaminate wheat and corn
gluten and rice protein concentrate manufactured in China is still
But, as a maker of wheat gluten, MGP Ingredients vice
president Steve Pickman has voiced an idea.
“It is my understanding, but certainly unheard of in our
experience,” Pickman told media, “that melamine could increase the
measurable nitrogen emitted from gluten, and then be mathematically
converted to protein. The effect could create the appearance or
illusion of raising the gluten’s protein level. Understandably, any
acts or practices such as this are barred in the U.S. How the U.S.
can or cannot monitor and prevent these types of situations from
occurring in other parts of the world,” Pickman concluded, “is the
overriding question.”

Said U.S. Food & Drug Administ-ration chief veterinarian
Stephen Sundlof, “Melamine was found in all three [pet food
ingredients imported from China.] This would certainly lend
credibility to the theory that the contamination 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
But getting U.S. inspectors into China to visit the plants in
question proved difficult. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois)
alleged in early April that the Chinese government had refused to
grant visas to FDA personnel. An FDA spokesperson clarified that the
visas were not overtly refused, but added that the agency had not
received the necessary invitation letter to get visas.
Xinhua News Agency editor Lu Hui meanwhile announced on April
6 that, “China is carrying out a nationwide inspection on the
quality of its wheat gluten after the United States claimed that the
pet food at the origin of a number of cat and dog deaths used tainted
wheat imported from China.”
“Sampling and examination are under way,” said Xia Wenjun,
a press officer for the General Administration of Quality
Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
There is no longer any question that the melamine tainting
U.S.-manufactured pet foods for at least three months in 2006-2007
was of Chinese origin.
Wilbur-Ellis Company, of San Francisco, in July 2006 began
importing rice protein concentrate from Futian Biology Technology Co.
Ltd., Wilbur-Ellis president and chief executive John Thacher told
MSNBC. Wilbur-Ellis resold the material to five pet food
manufacturers, including Diamond Pet Foods Inc., of Meta, Missouri,
which produces the Natural Balance pet food line at a manufacturing
plant in California.
Thacher said an April 4, 2007 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.”
Aware that melamine had been identified five days earlier as
a contaminant in wheat gluten used to make pet food, Wilbur-Ellis
held the shipment at a warehouse in Portland, Oregon, and had
samples tested. Melamine was found in the pink bag, but not in two
white bags, Thacher said.
Futian Biology told Wilbur-Ellis that the pink bag had been
used to replace a damaged bag, and that “the product was all fine,”
Thacher explained.
The tainted wheat gluten was earlier traced to a different
supplier, Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Develo-pment Company,
of Shanghai. Xuzhou Anying general manager Mao Lijun told Los
Angeles Times staff writers Marc Lifsher and Abigail Goldman that the
company and the Chinese government’s inspection and quarantine
administration are investigating how melamine got into the product.
Xuzhou Anying sales manager Geng Xiujuan told Christopher
Bodeen of Associated Press that Xuzhou Anying is a broker, not a
“Anying produces and exports more than 10,000 tons of wheat
gluten a year,” reported Alexa Oleson of Associated Press, “but
only 873 tons were linked to tainted U.S. pet food, raising the
possibility that more of the contaminated product could still be on
the market in China, or abroad.
Anying export director Li Cui told Oleson that the U.S. is
the company’s only foreign market.
“There has been no reaction among the Chinese public to the
tainted wheat gluten,” Oleson said, “and Beijing authorities have
not said whether they are investigating. An official at the Chinese
Ministry of Health, who refused to give his name, said the case was
not an issue for the ministry, and directed questions to the
Ministry of Agriculture. An official there, who also refused to give
his name, told Associated Press to stop calling.”
Throughout China, Bodeen wrote, “Pesticides and chemical
fertilizers are used in excess to boost yields, while harmful
antibiotics are widely administered to control disease in seafood and
livestock. Rampant industrial pollution risks introducing heavy
metals into the food chain.
“Farmers have used the cancer-causing industrial dye Sudan
Red to boost the value of their eggs, and fed an asthma medication
to pigs to produce leaner meat,” Bodeen recounted. “In a case that
galvanized the public’s and government’s attention, an infant
formula with little or no nutritional value has been blamed for
causing severe malnutrition in hundreds of babies and killing at
least 12.”
The European Union and Japan have banned imports of a variety
of Chinese agricultural and aquaculture products due to the products
containing excessive antibiotic or pesticide residues, Bodeen wrote.
“Hong Kong blocked imports of turbot last year,” Bodeen
recalled, “after inspectors found traces of malachite green, a
possibly cancer-causing chemical used to treat fungal infections, in
some fish.”
Contrary to the common belief in the U.S. and Europe that
products from small farms are safer than the output from factory
farming, Bodeen suggested that, “One source of the problem is
China’s fractured farming sector, comprised of small landholdings
which make regulation difficult. Small farms ship to market with
little documentation. Test-ing of the safety and purity of farm
products such as milk is often haphazard, hampered by fuzzy lines of
authority among regulators. Only about 6% of agricultural products
were considered pollution-free in 2005,” Bodeen said, based on USDA
data collection about the Chinese agricultural sector.
U.S. agricultural product purchases from China have increased
20-fold in 25 years.
“FDA inspectors are able to inspect only a tiny percentage
of the millions of shipments that enter the U.S. each year,” wrote
Bodeen. “Even so, shipments from China were rejected at the rate of
about 200 per month so far this year, compared with only 18
rejected cargoes per month from Thailand and 35 a month from Italy.

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