Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Criminal Indictments for Melamine Miscreants

February 6, 2008. A federal grand jury indicted two Chinese companies and one U.S. firm today as a result of an FDA investigation into last year's poisoned pet food scandal. According to the indictments, fourteen dogs and cats died in 2007 from kidney failure after eating pet food containing wheat gluten that had been spiked with melamine and cyanuric acid in order to boost its apparent protein content.

The companies named in the indictments were Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., LTD., the processor and exporter of the wheat gluten, Suzhou Textiles, Silk, Light Industrial Products, Arts and Crafts I/E Co. LTD., the Chinese export broker, and ChemNutra, Inc. of Las Vegas, the importer of the adulterated wheat gluten. The owners and managers of all three companies were also named in the indictments.

The adulteration came to light last March, when FDA began to receive reports of kidney failure in dogs and cats. The outbreak of illnesses and deaths was traced to wheat gluten that was used as an ingredient in pet foods sold under a long list of different brand names. The pet foods had all been produced (co-packed) by a single company - Menu Foods. The wheat gluten, which was found to contain melamine and cyanuric acid, was imported from China and sold to Menu Foods by ChemNutra, Inc.

Neither cyanuric acid nor melamine are permitted food ingredients in the United States and Canada, but neither chemical was thought to be toxic at the concentrations found in the pet food. But scientists at the University of Guelph in Canada quickly discovered that a combination of the two chemicals produced urinary crystals that were identical to the crystals found in the urine of the affected animals. And these crystals were enough to cause the kidneys to fail.

This initial report was confirmed by a follow-up investigation commissioned by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians and coordinated by Michigan State University. The AAVLD investigation, which I summarized in a blog on December 13th, also concluded that the adulterated products had been responsible for the deaths of more than 300 dogs and cats.

The tragedy of this outbreak was that it was entirely the result of greed on the part of the off-shore suppliers and the importer, and a desire on the part of some pet food manufacturers – in order to respond to a consumer desire for "value" – to produce pet food as cheaply as possible. Quality and safety come at a cost. But excessive attention to the lowest possible price can end up costing more than anyone would ever care to pay.

Let's hope that these indictments will bring some small comfort to those pet owners who suffered the needless loss of their companions as a result of the adulterated pet food and will serve as a reminder to the food industry and to consumers of the high cost of cheap food.

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