- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The U.S. stopped imports of wheat gluten from a company in China, acting after an investigation implicated the contaminated ingredient in the recent pet-food deaths of cats and dogs.

The Food and Drug Administration took action against wheat gluten from Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. in Wangdien, China, after the U.S. recall of nearly 100 brands of pet food made with the chemically contaminated ingredient.

The pet food, tainted with the chemical melamine, apparently has resulted in kidney failure in an unknown number of animals across the country.

Wheat gluten from China has been suspected in the outbreak since the first of multiple recalls was announced in mid-March. Even more pet food could be recalled in the next few days, though there probably has been no contamination of human food, FDA officials said yesterday.

The FDA reported last week that it had found melamine in samples of the vegetable protein source used in the recalled wet and dry pet foods and treats, as well as in cats that died after eating contaminated food.

“The wheat gluten that is positive for melamine all has come from this manufacturer,” said Neal Bataller, director of the division of compliance with the FDA’s veterinary medicine office. Melamine is used in plastics, countertops, glue, fire retardants and other products. Its toxicity to dogs and cats is unknown, but it is not allowed in food.

Geng Xiujuan, Xuzhou Anying’s sales manager, said the company was aware of the FDA’s import alert and was looking into it. However, Ms. Geng said the company, based in the eastern province of Jiangsu, had not manufactured the wheat gluten but had bought it from companies in neighboring provinces. She said Xuzhou Anying sold it to another Jiangsu company, Suzhou Textile Import and Export Co.

“There are many other exporters, and I don’t see why they would just blame us,” she said, adding that the company was undertaking an inspection but that it was too early to announce results.

The FDA still doesn’t know where all the contaminated imported wheat gluten ended up, though it appears unlikely any made it into human food.

“At this time, we can say that there is no evidence to suggest that any of the imported, suspect wheat gluten formed positive lots that made it into the human food supply,” said Michael Rogers, who oversees field investigations for the FDA’s office of regulatory affairs.

The imported product was minimally labeled but apparently went only to pet-food producers. The FDA considers the contamination an aberration since wheat gluten generally is not considered a product at risk for contamination.

“This should not be viewed as suddenly our food supply is unsafe, because I don’t believe that to be the case. In fact, the opposite is true,” agency chief Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach said.

FDA officials said the agency’s nationwide investigation could turn up more pet-food manufacturers that used the tainted ingredient, prompting even more products to be recalled.

“It is impossible for us to say at this time that there won’t be additional recalls. We’re continuing to follow the trail,” said David Elder, who oversees enforcement in the FDA’s office of regulatory affairs.

Menu Foods, a major manufacturer of nearly 100 store- and major-brand pet foods, announced the first recall March 16. Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc., Del Monte Pet Products and Nestle Purina PetCare Co. since then have recalled some of their products as well.

The FDA’s import alert, disclosed March 26 but posted on its Web site Friday, notifies its field offices to detain any wheat gluten offered for import from the Chinese company.

The order also recommends inspectors screen all wheat gluten from China as well as from the Netherlands, a country through which shipping of Chinese products can occur.

The FDA could not immediately say how much wheat gluten was exported to the U.S. by Xuzhou Anying. The FDA also was working to determine whether it shipped any other food products to the U.S., said Ellen Morrison, director of FDA’s office of crisis management.

The FDA has received in recent weeks more than 9,400 pet-food-related complaints from consumers nearly twice what the agency receives in a year for all the products it regulates, Dr. von Eschenbach said.

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