- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

BEIJING (AP) — China said yesterday it has banned melamine from food after the chemical was found in exports of vegetable protein shipped to the United States. But officials rejected it as the cause of dozens of pet deaths in North America.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials say they suspect the substance, which is a chemical found in plastics and pesticides, is to blame.

China’s Foreign Ministry said there was no evidence to support the FDA’s claim but that it would cooperate with the United States to find out what killed the animals.

The comments were the first detailed response from Beijing to concerns that emerged a month ago about the country’s wheat and rice gluten exports.

China has said it was investigating the issue but had not acknowledged until yesterday that Chinese companies had shipped gluten tainted with melamine to the United States.

The ministry said the contaminated vegetable protein managed to get past customs without inspection because it had not been declared for use in pet food.

“At present, there is no clear evidence showing that melamine is the direct cause of the poisoning or death of the pets,” the Foreign Ministry said. “China is willing to strengthen cooperation with the U.S. side … to find out the real cause leading to the pet deaths in order to protect the health of the pets of the two countries.”

Food and Drug Administration officials have said they suspect Chinese wheat and rice gluten laced with melamine and added to pet food may have killed at least 15 cats and dogs. The chemical appears to have caused acute kidney failure in animals that have died or been sickened after eating foods contaminated with the chemical.

China said an investigation triggered by FDA complaints found melamine in wheat and rice gluten exported to the United States by two Chinese companies: Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. and Binzhou Futian Bio-technology Co.

The case has prompted China to step up inspections of plant-based proteins and to list melamine as a banned substance for food exports and domestic sales, it said.

China also invited FDA officials to visit China to help with further investigations into the case and to consult on improving inspection techniques, it said.

Pet food companies have recalled more than 100 brands of cat and dog food since the first reports of animal deaths a little over a month ago.

Yesterday, two more were added to the list.

Chenango Valley Pet Foods has begun voluntarily recalling pet foods manufactured with a certain shipment of rice protein concentrate, the company said yesterday.

The company, working with the FDA, was informed by Wilbur-Ellis that rice protein concentrate shipped to Chenango Valley Pet Foods might be contaminated with melamine.

The pet foods were sold to customers in Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, who in turn sold the products to their customers through catalog mail orders or retail outlets.

Also, SmartPak Canine is recalling a batch of its LiveSmart-Weight Management Formula dog food because rice protein concentrate supplied by Wilbur-Ellis was used in the product. SmartPak said 45 pet owners received shipments of the affected product, all have been contacted, and there have been no reports of pets becoming ill.

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