U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials say the agency will step up it's testing for melamine, a chemical blamed for tainting more than 100 brands of pet food, which has spilled over the pork industry due to some producers feeding salvaged pet food.
The chemical has been discovered in wheat gluten and rice protein imported from two Chinese plants. Both ingredients are common in pet food. FDA also will test imported corn gluten, corn meal, soy protein and rice bran. All are vegetable proteins commonly used in bread, pizza, baby food and vegetarian meals. So far, the chemical has not been found in human food products.
The two Chinese plants in question have been shipping product to U.S. distributors since last summer, according to reports.
Melamine is the suspected contaminant in the nation's larges pet-food recall. Both moist pet food and dry kibble have been linked to the contaminated wheat gluten and rice protein. Some pork producers feed salvaged dry pet food, which has raised concern in California, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Utah and possibly Ohio.
As of April 24, only hog farms in California, North Carolina and South Carolina have confirmed receiving the tainted pet food. Authorities in those states have taken the appropriate action, facilities have been quarantined to prevent any movement of animals. FDA and Food Safety and Inspection Service personnel are investigating the issue to prevent the distribution of pork originating for these farms until the risk to human health is determined.
A poultry farm in Missouri may have received tainted pet food as well.
It is worth emphasizing that most pork producers feed their hogs a nutritionally-balanced, corn and soybean-based diet. In certain regions, where alternative ingredients such as bread and bakery waste, biofuel production byproducts or surplus pet food are available, these are sometimes included, in accordance with USDA regulations, as feed ingredients.
- Wheat gluten is a mixture of two proteins obtained when wheat flour is washed to remove the starch. It is sometimes used to thicken pet food "gravy." It also brings elasticity and texture to baked or dry products.
- Rice protein concentrate, also known as rice gluten, is the byproduct of producing rice starch in wet milling. It is considered a filler and an inexpensive source of protein in pet food manufacturing.
- Melamine has a number of industrial uses. It is used in manufacturing plastics in the United States (some uses for melamine include cooking utensils and countertops); and fertilizers in Asia. In the United States it has no approved use in human or animal food, nor is it permitted to be used as fertilizer.
- Melamine has been found in wheat gluten, rice protein concentrate imported into this country from China. The substance has also been found in corn gluten shipped from China to South Africa.
- On April 24, authorities announced they are taking a proactive step and have begun testing for melamine and melamine-related contaminants in imported corn gluten, rice bran, corn meal, soy protein in addition to rice protein concentrate and wheat gluten.
Source: National Pork Producers Council, National Pork Board