By Gina Spadafori
April 30, 2007
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USA Today just posted this absolutely jaw-dropping development:
The Food and Drug Administration is enforcing a new import alert that greatly expands its curtailment of some food ingredients imported from China, authorizing border inspectors to detain ingredients used in everything from noodles to breakfast bars.
The new restriction is likely to cause delays in the delivery of raw ingredients for the production of many commonly used products.
The move reflects the FDA’s growing unease with what the alert announcement called China’s “manufacturing control issues” issues and that country’s inability to ascertain what controls are in place to prevent food contamination. For example, the agency says that, after weeks of investigation, it still does not know what regions of China are affected or what firms there are major manufacturers of vegetable proteins.
Inspectors are now allowed to detain vegetable-protein imports from China because they may contain the chemical melamine. Melamine, used in the manufacture of plastics, was found in the wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate that has led to the recall of 5,300 pet food products.
An import alert of this breadth is rare. Before this new FDA action, only products from two Chinese companies that exported the melamine-tainted wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate had been detained.
Now for the products to reach U.S. foodmakers, the importers will have to prove to the FDA that they are safe. The ingredients restricted include wheat gluten, rice gluten, rice protein, rice protein concentrate, corn gluten, corn gluten meal, corn by-products, soy protein, soy gluten, mung-bean protein and amino acids.
And that ain’t all. The same import alert — which must be read to be believed — notes an extremely large jump in the number of pets the FDA is willing to suggest have been killed by tainted products.
Here’s the deal:
The day after FDA officials repeated the “17 or 18” dead pets mantra in a media teleconference — the same one at which they said they weren’t expecting more recalls, even though a recall was made just before or during the media conference, and four more in the hours after — the alert dropped quietly onto the FDA’s Web site. It happens to note:
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.
April 26, by the way, was the same day that at the media conference (here’s the transcript), the FDA said:
REPORTER: Thank you. Jim Kirshner with WDIV-TV in Detroit. I think this was asked earlier, and I may have missed the answer or it didnâ€™t get answered. 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 itâ€™s in the high teens, maybe 17 or 18 that we have confirmed. But again thatâ€™s not our focus. Our focus is to remove product that was contaminated, contained either wheat gluten or rice concentrate from commerce so we donâ€™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 donâ€™t know. Weâ€™ve had multiple, many thousand calls from consumers, and we are looking at that, but Iâ€™m not sure we will ever come up with a final number here. Itâ€™s just, I just donâ€™t think we can ever get there.
Emphasis mine, again. Apparently they got there, although I am sure these are considered “unconfirmed.”
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.
Here are numbers reported by pet owners into the Pet Connection database, updated just a few minutes ago:
- Total reports of illness or death: 14,228
- Total cats reported dead: 2,334 cats
- Total dogs reported dead: 2,249
Back to the FDA report:
- Total reports of illness or death: 17,000
- Total cats reported dead: 1950
- Total dogs reported dead: 2,200
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.
Update from Christie on the night shift: From the Washington Post:
“I do think this pet food thing has shown people, including people at the very highest levels of the administration, that something needs to be fixed,” said William Hubbard, associate director of the FDA from 1991 to 2005. “If this isn’t a wake-up call, then people are so asleep they are catatonic.”
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