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Saturday, May 12, 2007

 

It's enough to make you sick


Morning coffee brings great mental clarity and contains no wheat gluten, two things to recommend it. Over our coffee we laughed at reports that China refused to release visas for FDA inspectors who wanted to investigate the plants where the contaminated food ingredients are being produced. Later on, that report changed to something about not receiving letters of invitation.

We laughed because it was obvious that the Chinese factory owners were doing exactly what USA factory owners were doing--cleaning up their act and making sure that none of the products in their plants contained contaminated ingredients. They were vacuuming the floor and shredding the paper trail.

And so it came to pass:

American inspectors who arrived in China last week to investigate the two companies that exported tainted pet food ingredients found that the suspect facilities had been hastily closed down and cleaned up, federal officials said yesterday.

"There is nothing to be found. They are essentially shut down and not operating," said Walter Batts, deputy director of the Food and Drug Administration's office of international programs.

(Washington Post May 11, 2007, FDA Finds Chinese Food Producers Shut Down)

The coverup extends to the FDA itself, which has appointed a new food czar. Whenever I hear "czar" I know that the appointment is not for the benefit of the people but for the government. What makes them think that the word "czar" is a comfort to ordinary people? 

The FDA and the US Department of Agriculture announced in a press conference on May 1 that as many as 3 million chickens intended for human consumption were fed salvage pet food contaminated with melamine. David Acheson, the new czar, was one of the officials at the press conference.
The contaminated pet product made its way into poultry feed at 38 Indiana farms, 30 of which produced broiler chickens destined for restaurants and supermarkets, said FDA and USDA officials.

Approximately 2.5 million to 3 million chickens fed contaminated pet food have already been sold, Kenneth Peterson, assistant administrator for field operations at the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, said during a Tuesday teleconference.

The announcement came on the heels of similar discoveries at hog farms across the United States. The USDA first announced last week that meat from 345 hogs suspected of eating the contaminated feed had entered the U.S. food supply. Some 6,000 hogs suspected of eating the contaminated product have since been quarantined and meat from these animals will be withheld from the food supply, both agencies said.

The czar won't reveal the names of the poultry or hog farms that were discovered to have used contaminated pet food in their feed. So it's clear whose side he's on. The FDA also claimed for a long time that only 17 pets were killed by contaminated pet food but reports indicate more than 17,000 (possibly more depending on when you read this). So how can we be reassured by the czar's insistence that melamine in our food chain won't hurt us? Do you remember when New Yorkers were told it was safe to clean up the debris at Ground Zero, but now, after widespread sickness and deaths among cleanup workers, we find out they lied?

It appears that pet food [and chicken and hog feed?] may have been contaminated with melamine for some time. Perhaps the intent of the statement in this AP story is to make us feel better, but it doesn't work for me:

"We've been running the melamine feed business for about 15 years and receiving positive responses from our customers," Wang said. [Wang Jianhui, manager of the Kaiyuan Protein Feed company in Shijiazhuang.]

Trouble is, it looks like the USA's melamine import business ran afoul of China's cyanuric acid exports (hey-- it's only fair; we ship our unwanted computer parts to China to be disassembled and contaminate their environment, and they ship us their unwanted industrial wastes). Put melamine and cyanuric acid together in a cat, dog, chicken, pig, or human, and crystals form that clog up the kidneys, which in turn can lead to death. How it works is explained here. And that's the horrible death delivered to thousands of pets by this country's out-of-control food import system.

 

Key reference sites for further reading

You've already read a lot about this in newspapers, blogs and elsewhere. If you're still with me nevertheless, let me leave you with a must-read article and a website to track further pet food developments.

You can find the latest pet food information, recall alerts and other news at Itchmo.com and its forums. The forums page lists regional forums in each state, but no one is yet operating the Hawaii forum. The forums include useful articles such as this one which should interest pet food (and human food?) ingredient label readers: First Ingredient Pet Food Myth Buster.

And the must-read article is Poisoning Pets with Industrial Food by Terry J. Allen in the current issue of In These Times. This article is full of information you need to know if you're a pet owner, but probably won't enjoy reading. I'll close with this cheery excerpt:

The corpses of the 7 million homeless cats and dogs euthanized every year have to go somewhere. Many are sent to rendering plants, which sell their products—you guessed it—to the pet food industry.


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