U.S. hogs ate contaminated pet food from China.
The Boston Globe
BEIJING: President Hu Jintao of China on Wednesday urged farms to improve food safety and develop the organic sector, a day after the U.S. food safety authorities said that thousands of hogs had eaten salvaged pet food from China that had contained the industrial chemical melamine.
Smithfield Foods, the biggest U.S. hog producer, said Wednesday it was unlikely that it had fed contaminated feed to its hogs but that it was checking all of its feed suppliers.
Urine from hogs in California, North Carolina and South Carolina tested positive for melamine, a chemical contained in rice-protein concentrate imported from China, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday. Hogs in New York, Utah and, possibly, Ohio also are believed to have eaten tainted pet food, but their urine has not yet been tested.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also is testing rice-protein concentrate for a second contaminant, cyanuric acid, a chemical used as a pool cleaner that is high in nitrogen.
The agency’s theory is that rogue suppliers in China added melamine and other compounds to inferior protein products, artificially inflating their nitrogen content and price.
China has banned two companies suspected of selling contaminated food ingredients from exporting products and has invited representatives of the U.S. agency to meet with the Chinese government, said Julia Ho, an official in the U.S. agency’s international programs office.
The Politburo of the Communist Party listened to reports about food safety, and Hu issued his warning, promising stricter rules on growing and processing, the official People’s Daily newspaper reported.
"Resolving the food problems of 1.3 billion people and improving agricultural returns and farmers’ incomes demands that we accelerate implementation of agricultural standardization," Hu said, adding: "Without agricultural standardization, there can be no agricultural modernization and no assurance of food safety."
The Chinese public has been horrified by food problems ranging from fake baby milk and contaminated pet food to carcinogenic fish. The scandals have been blamed on unscrupulous businesses and lax official supervision.
Meanwhile, American lawmakers are demanding stricter safeguards and inspections of the human food supply.
In testimony Tuesday before a U.S. House of Representatives oversight panel, ChemNutra, a company that imported contaminated wheat gluten from China, and Menu Foods Income Fund, a pet food manufacturer whose use of the suspect ingredient led to one of the largest recalls of pet food in the United States, called themselves victims of a "fraud" that probably would have gone undetected had dogs and cats not begun to die.
The ease with which an imported ingredient laced with industrial chemicals penetrated the pet food supply draws a "frighteningly easy" road map for would-be terrorists to strike the U.S. food supply, said Representative Janice Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois. Her comments came during sweeping and emotional testimony that linked faulty federal oversight to recalls of tainted peanut butter, suspect spinach, and lethal pet food.
While the percentage of imported food subject to regulatory inspections has steadily dropped in recent years, the proportion of imported food used in domestic manufacturing has skyrocketed. There is no requirement that the food and Drug Administration conduct an in-person inspection before an overseas producer begins to ship ingredients to U.S. suppliers seeking low prices.
Paul Henderson, Menu Foods’ chief executive, told members of the House panel that the system should be changed. Henderson said that before Menu Foods was allowed to ship products to Europe, its U.S. and Canadian manufacturing plants had to be "qualified."
It would be "a very good, positive step," he said, if Chinese exporters shipping food ingredients to the United States underwent similar accreditation, certification, and inspection of their plants. Late Monday, after congressional pressure, the Chinese government approved visits by U.S. agency inspectors to determine how the contamination had occurred.
In addition, the agency will begin domestic tests of corn gluten, corn meal, soy protein, rice bran, rice protein concentrate, and wheat gluten imported from China to determine if those products are also tainted with industrial chemicals. Such ingredients are used in breakfast cereal, pizza dough, baby formula, and protein shakes, but Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer at the food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said there was "no evidence" that any of those human foods contained contaminated ingredients.
Since mid-March, the Menu Foods recall has taken 60 million cans and pouches of pet food off store shelves. But the recall could have easily included human food, ChemNutra testified before Congress. The gluten was certified as suitable for human consumption.
Democrats say they will introduce legislation that would permit the Food and Drug Administration to force mandatory food recalls, a power it now lacks, and increase funding to hire more inspectors.