Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Bush administration yesterday disputed Chinese assertions that it had been given a clean bill of health by U.S. inspectors following a rash of pet deaths caused by the use of tainted Chinese wheat gluten in pet food.

China claimed earlier this week that checks on exporters had turned up no sign of the chemical melamine after Chinese officials accompanied Food and Drug Administration inspectors on visits to two companies blamed for the pet food contamination.

At the same time, China urged Washington not to take further action against Chinese food producers.

However, FDA Assistant Commissioner David Acheson yesterday said the issue has not been resolved.

The U.S. government has issued an import alert on Chinese vegetable protein concentrate, holding shipments at the border until they are determined to be safe.

Mr. Acheson said the agency maintains that import alert while it continues to look for melamine and similar compounds in vegetable protein concentrates.

“We’re going to continue to do that until we’re satisfied that this is under control,” he said.

“Clearly, our continued import alert would indicate that we have continuing concerns with imports of vegetable protein concentrates from China,” he said.

Moreover, he said, there could be food-safety problems elsewhere in China, which is one reason for the FDA to maintain its import alert.

Under the alert, he said, “any vegetable protein concentrate coming in from China is not going to be imported until we have assurance that it’s negative.”

So far, he said, 46 shipments of Chinese vegetable protein products have been detained in the U.S.

Meanwhile, domestic efforts focus on U.S. manufacturers that have received vegetable protein concentrates from China. Mr. Acheson said the government has collected 63 samples for testing for melamine from companies in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota and New Hampshire.

Of that total, he said, 37 tested negative, 23 are pending and three could not be tested.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not return a call requesting comment yesterday.

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