Tainted pet food reaches human fare: hogs quarantined *LINK*

Tainted pet food reaches human fare: hogs quarantined *LINK*
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zany mystic
Saturday, April 21, 2007 08:09 am

Tainted pet food reaches human fare
Officials doubt a health risk, but 1,500 hogs are quarantined as sold carcasses sought
By Diedtra Henderson, Globe Staff | April 21, 2007

WASHINGTON -- An industrial chemical linked to kidney failure in dogs and cats has found its way into the human food supply chain. California officials quarantined 1,500 animals at the American Hog Farm and are tracking who purchased nearly 100 hogs from the farm this month, when the animals\' feed included pet food that had been tainted with melamine .

In addition, 26 hogs were sold and slaughtered at an unnamed processing plant in northern California . Federal authorities quarantined those unprocessed carcasses at that plant, but state officials expect to identify more California processing plants that purchased the hogs.

American Hog Farm, a specialty slaughterhouse in Ceres, Calif., sells whole hogs suitable for backyard barbecues to celebrate weddings, retirements, graduations, and other festive events.

A man who answered the phone at American Hog Farm and who identified himself as one of its owners said yesterday it is premature to comment since the federal investigation continues.

So little is known about melamine that it remains unclear why hogs that ate tainted food survived, merely excreting the chemical in urine, while cats and dogs died from kidney failure. For now, the risk to humans who ate the pork is thought to be minimal, said Dr. Kevin Reilly of the California Department of Health Services.

Still, members of Congress have little patience for yet another food safety fiasco. Tuesday , a US House of Representatives subcommittee will examine the Food and Drug Administration\'s \"diminished capacity\" to assure American food safety. Rosa L. DeLauro , Democrat of Connecticut , promises to hold additional hearings.

\"The pet food recall is turning into a real crisis,\" DeLauro said . \"FDA initially assured us that the concerns about the pet food supply was a separate issue and that the human food supply would not be threatened. However, recent reports noting that the melamine has been found in hog urine which, if verified, has the potential of contaminating human food.\"

Three pet food makers this week recalled products made with tainted rice protein concentrate imported from China . More recalls could follow since Wilbur-Ellis Co. , the San Francisco firm that imported the rice protein, said it sold the tainted ingredient to five pet food manufacturers. That is in addition to more than 100 brands of pet food recalled since mid-March due to contamination by imported wheat gluten laced with melamine.

Diamond Pet Foods of California has an exclusive contract with American Hog Farm to sell pet food that spilled onto the floor during production or spilled from split bags during shipping, making it unsuitable for sale. Those shipments included Natural Balance pet food that later tested positive for melamine.

\"The arrangement was for the farm to pick up 25,000 pounds of salvage food from the pet food manufacturer every 10 days or so. The farm mixed that with other salvage resources\" to make the pig feed, said Steve Lyle , a California Department of Food and Agriculture spokesman.

\"You\'ve heard the word \'slops\' to feed the pigs, historically?\" Lyle said. \"It\'s not uncommon that sources like this would be mined for pig feed.\"

Federal regulators suspect that rogue suppliers in China deliberately laced a trio of protein supplements -- wheat gluten , rice protein concentrate and corn gluten -- with melamine to inflate the ingredients\' protein levels and price tag. If it finds an intent to defraud, the FDA said its investigation could result in criminal charges.

Some food-safety crisis-weary companies, like a Woburn corporate caterer that handles a few pig roast requests a year, are bypassing such trouble by rigorously screening suppliers, changing menus, and paying more.

\"We can\'t take that risk. I have to have it perfect,\" said John Andrews , catering sales manager at David\'s World Famous . \"I can\'t have anyone questioning my product. Period.\"

Meanwhile, The Blue Buffalo Co. of Wilton, Conn., stunned to learn that its pet food contained the tainted rice protein concentrate, now will demand that, if its American suppliers must use imports, they will choose trusted countries like Australia , Canada , New Zealand, and the European Union nations, which have more rigorous standards.

\"It\'s when you get into some of these Asian countries, particularly China, where the regulation just isn\'t there,\" said Bill Bishop , the company\'s president. \"We can\'t tolerate that as a pet food supplier. We\'re clearly going to bar China.\"

Diedtra Henderson can be reached at dhenderson@globe.com.