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May 01, 2007

FDA Widens Import Alert (To Put It Mildly), Concedes That Animal Fatalities Number In The Thousands

[By litbrit, who seems to have misplaced her appetite.]

A number of journalists and bloggers have been following the food-adulteration issue very closely, including Goldy at HorsesAss, who to his credit manages to find some dark humor in all this--really--and sends up the FDA's recent update.  (You remember, the one they issued on Friday, with food-supply protectors assuring us that humans aren't at risk because even if melamine had got into pork, it would only be a small percentage of the pork, and pork itself is only part of the American diet anyway.)  Goldy also points to a new, quietly-expanded Import Alert buried in the FDA website:

IA #99-29, 4/27/07,  IMPORT ALERT #99-29,

"DETENTION WITHOUT PHYSICAL EXAMINATION OF ALL VEGETABLE PROTEIN PRODUCTS FROM CHINA FOR ANIMAL OR HUMAN FOOD USE DUE TO THE PRESENCE OF MELAMINE AND/OR MELAMINE ANALOGS"

TYPE OF ALERT: Detention Without Physical Examination (Countrywide)[...]

PRODUCTS: Wheat Gluten   Rice Gluten   Rice Protein   Rice Protein Concentrate   Corn Gluten   Corn Gluten Meal   Corn By-Products   Soy Protein   Soy Gluten   Proteins (includes amino acids and protein hydrosylates)   Mung Bean Protein

PROBLEM: Poisonous or Deleterious Substance   Unfit For Food   Unsafe Food Additive

PAF:          PES     COUNTRY:      China (CN)     MANUFACTURER/SHIPPER:     All

CHARGES:   "The article is subject to refusal of admission pursuant to     section 801(a)(3) in that it appears to bear or contain a     poisonous or deleterious substance, which may render it     injurious to health [Adulteration, section 402(a)(1)]"

Look at that list now--it includes just about every form of grain protein there is.  Soy, rice and mung bean proteins that go into cookies and pizza dough and baby food, as well as countless "healthy" smoothies served at juice bars across the country.  Would you like a sprinkle of melamine  splash of cyanuric acid shot of protein powder in your mango shake for just a dollar more?

At a presser on April 26, FDA official Dr. Dan McChesney said the number of animal fatalities associated with the tainted food was "in the  high teens":

REPORTER: ...Jim Kirshner with WDIV-TV in Detroit. Do you have a total number of pets either killed or sustaining some sort of injury from the pet food contamination? What figures do you have confirmed at this point?

         

DR. MCCHESNEY: This is Dan McChesney from FDA. What I previously said I believe in response to the Washington Post question was that it's in the high teens, maybe 17 or 18 that we have confirmed. But again that's not our focus. Our focus is to remove product that was contaminated, contained either wheat gluten or rice concentrate from commerce so we don't involve other animals or get it into other parts of the supply system.

         

REPORTER:  At some point will you make a count, take a count, of the number of dogs, cats involved?

         

DR. MCCHESNEY: I don't know. We've had multiple, many thousand calls from consumers, and we are looking at that, but I'm not sure we will ever come up with a final number here. It's just, I just don't think we can ever get there.

 

But in the above-mentioned Import Alert issued the very next day (April 28) the FDA finally reports a death toll that approaches the truth, which is to say, a number in the thousands as opposed to the high teens.  The Feds also mention the enormity of this recall:

This has been one of the largest pet food recalls in history, a recall that continues to expand.  Thus far, 18 firms have recalled product, 17 Class I and 1 class II,  covering over 5,300 product  lines.  As of April 26, 2007, FDA had received over 17,000 consumer complaints relating to this outbreak, and those complaints included reports of approximately 1950 deaths of cats and 2200 deaths of dogs.

Gina Spadafori at Pet Connection blog (which took the lead early on, putting together a database of dog and cat deaths and keeping abreast of all the food-tainting developments) has this to say:

Look … you would not believe the crap we have had to take for our Pet Connection database. We have been accused of promoting everything from hysteria to our own careers, and through it all the FDA has said nothing that substantiated what we and the independent Veterinary Information Network knew was the scope of the tragedy. [...]

Perhaps now every time a media outlet says “16″ or even “17 or 18″ or “high teens” or some other such nonsense, the reporter will get this FDA document in their e-mail inbox from, like, every one of us who cares about making these pets count.

I take absolutely no joy in being “right,” and I would gladly be wrong to have all those pets still alive. But I truly do believe if it weren’t for the pressure from those of us working to get this information out and force the FDA to step up, there’d be a lot more people grieving for their pets tonight.

And tainted products would still be flowing into this country.

Expect even those high numbers to continue to rise.  What's more, we'll soon be seeing the recall of an undetermined number of food products meant for humans; when that happens, the uproar will be deafening.  I would add that there have been numerous anecdotal reports of livestock and horses suffering kidney failure, too, but these illnesses and deaths have not been officially recognized or counted yet; it is also unclear if the FDA or USDA plan to intervene in the common and ongoing practice of adding salvage pet food and scraps to hog feed, responsible for last week's pork recall and the euthanization of thousands of pigs. Stay tuned.

May 1, 2007 in Government | Permalink

Comments

There is absolutely zero chance that this stuff is NOT in the human food supply. That is, there is a 100.0% chance that it IS.

I expect the FDA will get around to telling us this in, oh, February 2009.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | May 1, 2007 1:21:57 PM

Cranky, it most definitely is in the human food supply. They've identified thousands of hogs who ate melamine-laced feed, some of which were already sold and slaughtered (and eaten); others of which are slated to be euthanized.

Yesterday, officials announced it had been fed to poultry, too--far more than can ever be accounted for, and they've already been "processed" (killed, sold, and eaten). But we're to accept the FDA's assurances that the melamine poses a "low risk".

Posted by: litbrit | May 1, 2007 2:02:19 PM

The Invisible Hand performs a prostate exam....

Posted by: Davis. X. MachinaD | May 1, 2007 2:10:05 PM

Just threw away some Del Monte Beef Jerky Treats. Thanks for links, though I have been following this for a week or so. My dogs seem fine, and didn't like that what came from that cannister, so didn't eat many. Watching lists very carefully.

"Look at that list now--it includes just about every form of grain protein there is."

I have read some pretty paranoid speculation about this, and I can't deny I am prone. But this event has demonstrated dangers & possible threats. If the adulteration or contamination or deliberate poisoning of the grain protein additives had been of a kind that only shows up after twenty years in kidney failure, which is relatively common in the US anyway, the original source/cause/agent could be very difficult to identify. Just suddenly in 2025 millions of Americans have to unexpectedly go to dialysis, destroying the economy. Or 2050, when the Chinese are expecting to have a much more world-wide market, but are expecting the US to remain its fiercest competitor.

I worry a lot less about Swiss or French chocolate. I guess this may sound hostile (or even a little racist or some cultural bias;I have been fighting it) but I don't trust food additives from China. Profits are not the only possible motive here; or not merely or simply profits.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | May 1, 2007 3:29:27 PM

Oh, and I guess I can't hold Clinton or Rubin or Krugman or DeLong personally responsible If my dogs get sick. Nobody promised me a globalisation rose garden, and heck, they couldn't know that the FDA might get gutted or underfunded. Republicans never win elections, and businesses, even overseas businesses, are usually very socially responsible, even at great cost to margins.

This has always been part of the free trade argument.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | May 1, 2007 3:35:14 PM

(So far I am resting uneasily on my kosher eating habits.)

Of course, China also sells soy sauce made from hair...

I love free trade, globalization and the WTO!

I've got to admit it's getting better, better
A little better all the time, it can't get no worse
I have to admit it's getting better, better
It's getting better and free trade is fine.

Me used to be angry young man
Me hiding me head in the sand
You gave me the word, I finally heard
I'm doing the best that I can

{Refrain}

Getting so much better all the time
It's getting better all the time
Better, better, better
It's getting better all the time
Better, better, better

Posted by: jerry | May 1, 2007 3:55:37 PM

would someone please respond to this with some guidance?
....i, for one, saw this coming weeks ago.
but what can we eat?
i am a vegetarian, but i do eat pasta and bread and cheese. i cannot maintain high energy levels on an entirely vegan diet.
are we to assume that our organic pastas and breads are okay? i am never really sure.
.....i buy a very generic brand of pasta, and i do eat it frequently.... and i bet it is contaminated, because it is inexpensive.
i have to conserve on expensive foods, as i am now feeding my dog organic meats and his grocery bill is a whole lot more expensive than mine lately!
....i work really hard to eat healthy, and now this....
any suggestions?
and please dont suggest not worrying about it, because i am really worried about it.
personally, i think our food and our cellphones are going to do us all in...

Posted by: jacqueline | May 1, 2007 5:03:02 PM

anyone holding monsanto stock?

Posted by: jacqueline | May 1, 2007 5:09:26 PM

I guess this may sound hostile (or even a little racist or some cultural bias;I have been fighting it) but I don't trust food additives from China. Profits are not the only possible motive here; or not merely or simply profits.

I also don't trust food products from China. However, I do believe that the motivation is purely profit.

China is not a communist/socialist nation. It is an authoritarian nation, governed by a small minority of the population. It's a large country with a huge population that wants social order above all else. Like authoritarians anywhere in the world, the people at the top levels of China's government don't care about the health and welfare of anyone other than themselves.

The most important thing to the government is the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which is putting a huge strain on China's finances. So a government that promotes an already lax regulating environment has even more reason to set aside worries about food safety.

Seriously, if we want to see what true, unfettered laissez-faire capitalism looks like, we can just take a look at China. The capitalist class there has far more freedom to do whatever it wants than it does here in the USA. Davis. X. MachinaD's comment is entirely right.

Posted by: Stephen | May 1, 2007 5:19:06 PM

thank you, litbrit...
you have been so helpful with your informative articles here ever since this began.

Posted by: jacqueline | May 1, 2007 5:25:45 PM

Fake baby formula, soy sauce from hair - but of course it's cheap! Remember, you get what you pay for.
If the deal is too good, there's probably some reason you don't want to know about.

Posted by: CParis | May 1, 2007 5:25:54 PM

I totally agree with Stephen. When I look at China, I see what Republicans want the US economy to look like.

And I see why libertarian economists are fools.

Posted by: NBarnes | May 1, 2007 5:38:07 PM

HorsesAss.Org» Blog Archive » BREAKING: Americans ate 3 million melamine-tainted chickens!

Well I keep kosher, but I don't eat only kosher chickens. So that didn't last long.

Posted by: jerry | May 1, 2007 5:48:10 PM

I see litbrit had already linked there. Sorry about that. Late night.

The question I have is this: are there any Democrats who will actually be able to make this an issue for 2008? Food safety, American agriculture, Fair Trade, ... All sound like winning issues, but I fear my party of Bidens.

Why isn't Obama, Clinton, and Edwards making a big deal of this RIGHT NOW?

Posted by: jerry | May 1, 2007 5:52:09 PM

Apparently, melamine is "normally" fed to chickens, to kill fly larva in their shit.

I'm still fairly confused about this issue. I've heard that melamine starts breaking down in wheat gluten, and that's what causes problems.

I have this vague feeling that there is a cover up, under the guise of protecting the world economy.

Posted by: anon | May 1, 2007 6:20:00 PM

maybe guidelines for healthy water consumption will soon be increased to twenty glasses a day.

Posted by: jacqueline | May 1, 2007 6:25:48 PM

Kidney and pancreatic failure are already signs of other chronic human illnesses. Diabetes Mellitus 2, for example. You know, the epidemic?

Has any pathologist examined a good sampling of the livers and kidneys that need to be replaced, each year, for this type of long-term contamination?

In short, the rope China could sell to hang us with doesn't have to be made of hemp, folks.

Posted by: cgeye | May 1, 2007 6:53:34 PM

"I have this vague feeling that there is a cover up, under the guise of protecting the world economy."

I linked to a history of Canadian Menu Foods in a thread here the other day. It is the story of late 20th century industry.

I am glad this post said "adulterated" because this is not like the E-Coli on spinach, which was accidental or negligent. The melamine was deliberate and intentional, to boost tested protein levels.

Now the question that unanswered for me is "Why?" I got my unopened can of Alpo...one huge shock is how little you can trust brand names...here in my hand, and squinting to read the fine print, wheat gluten is the tenth ingredient, ranked by weight. "...Potassium chloride, guar gum, wheat gluten, added color..."

Now, guessing, at less than 1% of the total by weight, why was it important that this binding agent have a high protein content? The total protein is 9% by weight, and I shouldn't think that the wheat gluten would add significantly to that. So I don't know why Menu Foods (the customer) would care about the protein level of the wg. On the other hand, Menu's customers, end users do care, and slipping cheap protein into the final product would save Menu a bunch of money/margin on actual meat by-products and rice.

And well, if protein content of wheat gluten is important to Menu, surely they would test and possibly notice something unusual. Unless they were unsurprised and pleased with this marvelous wheat gluten.

Menu Foods supplies 50% of "house brand" and "specialty" pet food in N America, IIRC. Which is another trip, that the stuff you bought at the vets for double price may be the same as the Kroger or Albertson generic.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | May 1, 2007 6:56:54 PM

When I look at China, I see what Republicans want the US economy to look like.

Yes, it's well known that Republicans and libertarians favor poisoning food and oppose regulations to prevent it.

Posted by: Sanpete | May 1, 2007 7:06:34 PM

Well to be fair Sanpete, not all of them do.

Posted by: jerry | May 1, 2007 7:18:51 PM

I do think it would be a good thing for anyone that lost a pet or a grandparent to adulterated pet foods to send the bill to the American Economic Association.

Yeah, no one has mentioned how this has affected the elderly.

Posted by: jerry | May 1, 2007 7:21:48 PM

You're probably right, jerry. Maybe only some Republicans and libertarians favor poisoning food and total lack of regulation.

Posted by: Sanpete | May 1, 2007 8:36:49 PM

Yes, it's well known that Republicans and libertarians favor poisoning food and oppose regulations to prevent it.

Oh, give me a break. China has extremely lax regulations over its various industries. Republicans and Libertarians want the USA to have an economy with extremely lax regulations over its industries.

If you want to argue whether the conservatarian vision is the type of free-form capitalism found in China or not, fine. But no one said that Republicans and liberatarains favor poisoning food. But that they oppose government "interference" in "market matters" is clear, obvious and well-documented.

Sheesh.

Posted by: Stephen | May 1, 2007 8:47:55 PM

thanks to the genomics at monsanto, we can soon look forward to personal-sized watermelons, lettuce leaves that wont wilt in your lunchbox, and carrots in rainbow colors....imagine what else might be in store for us.
it might whet the imagination, if not the appetite.
i wonder if the rainbow carrots will be safe for bunny rabbits.

Posted by: jacqueline | May 1, 2007 8:58:59 PM

If you want to argue whether the conservatarian vision is the type of free-form capitalism found in China or not, fine.

I think you see the point, Stephen. It's not very useful to see things in black and white when there are very important degrees and distinctions in between. Republicans and libertarians don't advocate or desire a system like China's, and anyone interested in understanding their views truthfully knows that.

Posted by: Sanpete | May 1, 2007 9:32:37 PM

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