Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Summing it all up - David Goldstein at The Huffington Post

Another great entry by David Goldstein of The Huffington Post

Melamine: It Tastes Just Like Chicken

It is official, this is no longer just a pet food recall:

U.S. health officials are now looking at whether humans may have consumed food containing a chemical linked to a recall of pet foods and livestock feed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday.

FDA officials said they would inspect imports of six grain products used in foods ranging from bread to baby formula for traces of melamine, a chemical thought to have killed and sickened cats and dogs.

Those six grain products are wheat gluten, corn gluten, corn meal, soy protein, rice bran and rice protein. As many as 39,000 dogs and cats may have been sickened or killed due to melamine contamination.

But wait, it gets worse:

The California Agriculture Department said separately it was trying to contact 50 people who bought pork that may have come from pigs fed food containing melamine. The state's health department recommended humans not consume the meat, but said any health risk was minimal.

Melamine, a chemical used in plastics and fertilizer, has already been found in wheat gluten and rice protein imported from China for use in some pet foods, triggering a recall of more than 100 brands. [...] Some tainted material was used for hog feed before the contamination was found, and officials said on Tuesday thousands of pigs might be affected on farms in North and South Carolina, California, New York, Utah and possibly Ohio.

The FDA is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several states to investigate the now-quarantined farms and whether hogs on those farms were slaughtered for human food.

"Some of the hog operations were fairly sizable," said Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.

And worse:

A poultry farm in Missouri also may have received tainted feed, officials added.

Mmm. Melamine... it tastes just like chicken.

And all this news comes only hours after Congressional hearings on food safety, at which the FDA didn't bother to mention any of this at all. Typical.

Back on April 1, when I first started covering this story at length, I wrote:

Unless and until the FDA determines otherwise, one cannot help but wonder if our sick and dying cats are merely the canary in the coal mine alerting us to a broader contamination of the human food supply.

I take some pride but no joy in my prescience, and it now seems clear that from the moment the FDA first thought to test for melamine, they clearly understood the potential scope of this "economic adulteration." A huge swath of our food supply has been compromised: any processed food containing high-protein additives, and any and all livestock, including farmed fish. And considering how widespread the melamine contamination appears to be, and the Chinese government's indignant non-reaction, it is not hyperbole to suggest that all imported Chinese foodstuffs should for now be viewed with suspicion, as should all domestic products using imported Chinese ingredients.

This is a huge story, and I cannot for the life of me understand how the news media has let it slip so far under the radar. It is virtually impossible, given the nature of our food industry and the circumstances publicly known thus far, for the tainted foodstuffs not to have made it into the human food supply. Americans and their pets are being slowly poisoned by melamine, and quite likely have been for years.

You'd think maybe, some enterprising reporter might be smelling a Pulitzer in there somewhere?

You'd think David, you'd think.

More from his blog today:

You Are What You Eat: Is "Salvage" Pet Food Feeding Cows to Cows?

It is time for the Food and Drug Administration and the media covering it to stop pretending that our nation's massive pet food recall only concerns our pets, for the more we learn about common food industry practices, the breadth and scope of melamine contamination, and the lack of adequate regulatory safeguards, the more it becomes apparent that our entire food supply isn't nearly as safe as the average consumer assumes it to be.

The industrial chemical melamine has now been discovered in multiple high-protein food additives -- wheat, corn and rice gluten -- from multiple Chinese manufacturers, leading industry experts to conclude that not only was the contamination intentional, but that such "economic adulteration" is disturbingly widespread, at least in China. Testifying this morning before the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, ChemNutra CEO Steve Miller -- the importer of melamine-tainted wheat gluten that killed or sickened as many as 39,000 dogs and cats -- explains the theory:

"We at ChemNutra strongly suspect, at this point, that XuZhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd may have added melamine to the wheat gluten as an "economic adulteration" designed to make inferior wheat gluten appear to have a higher protein content. They can sell it to us at the price we would pay for a higher-quality product because the melamine, our experts tell us, falsely elevates the results of a nitrogen-content test used to assess protein content. Melamine is not something that we or, anyone else, including the FDA was ever testing for in the past, though of course we are now.

We have recently been told that there was a prior history of this same kind of economic adulteration related to a similar agricultural commodity about three decades ago, where this commodity was adulterated with urea, another nitrogen intensive additive, which had at the time become inexpensive enough to economically use to fool the protein testing."

Given the facts and the known history, no other theory can adequately explain the contamination, regardless of what FDA investigators eventually find once they are permitted entry to China. One synthetic organic chemist explained that he could think of no other chemical better suited to such economic adulteration than melamine. "What you would look for" he told me, "is an additive that is nontoxic, nonvolatile, high in nitrogen... and dirt cheap." At approximately 66-percent nitrogen by weight, with no explosive characteristics or previously known toxicity, and widely available for less than a penny a gram, melamine was the obvious choice.

If these known batches of adulterated gluten have not made it directly into the human food supply, it is only by sheer luck, but last week it was confirmed that the toxin most likely did make its way into American kitchens in the form of melamine-tainted pork from hogs fed on "salvage" pet food, exposing yet more of the dirty underbelly of our food industry.

What is "salvage" pet food, and why was it fed to hogs? A spokesperson for Diamond Pet Foods explained that the mixture from the beginning of each production run is "too high in moisture content to run through the manufacturing process," and that this is provided to farms with non-ruminant animals as "salvage" under regulatory guidelines. In all of its communications regarding the hog poisoning incident, Diamond is careful to frame the little known "salvage" and "distressed" pet food market in the best possible light.

"It is a common regulated practice for animal food facilities to provide salvage product to farms with non-ruminant animals. This regulated practice is mindful of the environment as it does not waste energy (food) and saves valuable landfill space."

Yeah sure, in fact, feeding salvage and distressed pet food to livestock apparently is a common practice... in the U.S. North of the border, however, not so much. Indeed, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency:

Because livestock animals are grown as food for humans, and pets are not, the pet food industry is able to make use of ingredients which may be unsuited for use in livestock feeds. Thus it is not acceptable to subsequently reintroduce these ingredients back into livestock feeds as waste pet food material. [...] Pet food, including salvaged and distressed pet food, is not an approved ingredient for use in livestock feed and as such its inclusion is not considered safe and will not be allowed at this time.

Makes sense. Unsuitable ingredients include those not approved for use in livestock feeds as listed in Schedule IV or V of the Canadian Feeds Regulations. (Interestingly, "rice gluten" or "rice protein concentrate" appear nowhere on the list. Or, for that matter, in the FDA's EAFUS -- Everything Added to Food in the United States -- database. Go figure.)

Other ingredients unsuited for livestock feed -- in Canada -- include those that "may contain animal proteins [...] which may be prohibited from feeding to ruminants." You know, it just isn't kosher (literally and figuratively) to feed cows, um... cows.

And according to a brochure provided by the Pet Food Institute, the same ruminant cannibalism prohibition holds true here. Sorta. In the U.S., salvage and distressed pet food may be repurposed for livestock feed, but must be labeled "Do Not Feed to Cattle or Other Ruminants" if it contains any mammalian protein at all. That is, any mammalian protein except:

  • Milk products.
  • Gelatin.
  • Blood and blood products.
  • Pure pork or horse protein.
  • And inspected meat products of any type which have been cooked and offered for human food (such as "plate scrapings") and further heat processed for animal feed.

Yuck. Who knew that in the U.S. your unfinished burger could make its way into cattle feed via salvage dog feed, and then back onto your plate in the form of another burger? That type of dedication to recycling I can do without.

One of the take-home messages from the whole Mad Cow crisis was that it was unsafe and unnatural to feed animal protein to ruminants meant for human consumption, and yet the practice apparently continues to this day. Our lax, salvage pet food regulations have already directly led to human consumption of melamine-tainted pork, and there is no reason to be confident that this and other dangerous chemicals or diseases have not contaminated our beef and dairy supply. If it is unacceptable to feed salvaged pet food to livestock in Canada, it should be unacceptable here in the U.S. as well.

There has been much talk recently about the FDA lacking the funding and staffing necessary to adequately police our globalizing food industry, but after six years of Bush administration control, it also clearly lacks the leadership and mandate as well. This isn't merely an issue about management -- it is ideological -- and by now it should be clear to objective observers that the FDA's and other federal regulatory agencies' over-reliance on industry self-regulation has put the health, safety and welfare of the American public at risk.

This is what comes from electing politicians who despise government, and who appoint regulators who do not believe in regulation.

No comments:

Volunteers Needed! Get food off shelves...

howl911.com, itchmo.com, thepetfoodlist.com, petconnection.com, petfoodtracker.com and spockosbrain.com have joined together to ask for your help.
Update 6-10: Recalled food was purchased from a
California store on 5-29th – this stuff is still out there!
We need Volunteers to help get recalled food off store shelves. Read this post at Spocko’s Brain for instructions. Print a list (or two) on this site. Visit stores, then report safe stores here at Itchmo.com.

Printing Information:
1. Print the main FDA Pet Food Recall page http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/petfood.html – this will be handy to show retailers who haven’t heard anything about the recall. (3 pages)

2. Print the list of 14 Major National Brands - it includes flavors and date information where applicable so you can tell if specific products for these brands have been recalled. The brands are: Alpo Prime Cuts, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul, Doctors Foster and Smith, Eukanuba, Gravy Train, Hill’s Science Diet, Iams, Jerky Treats, Lick Your Chops, Mighty Dog Pouches, Natural Balance, Nutro, Pounce, Royal Canin. (It’s 7 pages and includes FDA contact information.)

3. Print the List of All Brands – it will remind you what products have been recalled - but it does not give you date and flavor information, there is just too much to put in one document. (7 pages, but the 7th page is links to more detailed information so you don’t need to print it)

If you want, and are going to a store that you know has store brands that have been recalled (such as Walmart), go to that recall information at the links on the summary or at the FDA site and print it out. Some of the information is formatted in ways that make it difficult to read (one of the main reasons for this site), but it’s better than nothing.

Note: The FDA is the official source for all recall information and recalled products. This is an unofficial volunteer effort to help get the word out and get recalled foods off of shelves. We’re doing the best we can but can’t guarantee these lists are completely accurate. Again, here is the official recall site: http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/petfood.html