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The Washington Post reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), concerned that the toxic compound melamine has been found in both wheat gluten and rice protein used in pet food, “will begin testing batches of six imported ingredients used in pet foods and livestock feed, as well as additives to human food.”

The melamine, identified as being responsible for the deaths of an unknown number of cats and dogs, previously was found in ingredients imported from China.

According to the Post, “The agency said that imported corn gluten, corn meal, soy protein and rice bran will also be tested. The vegetable proteins are used in bread, pizza, baby food and many vegetarian dishes.”

USA Today notes that “the FDA announcement late Tuesday afternoon came hours after members of Congress criticized the agency at a hearing for not doing enough to protect the food supply.”

And the news gets worse.

The Boston Globe this morning reports that “thousands of hogs in at least five states and poultry at a Missouri farm ate salvage pet food that had been laced with an industrial chemical, the Food and Drug Administration said yesterday, opening potential avenues for the contaminant to enter the human food supply.

“Urine from hogs in California, North Carolina, and South Carolina tested positive for melamine , a chemical contained in rice protein concentrate imported from China . Hogs in New York , Utah, and, possibly, Ohio also ate tainted pet food, but their urine has not yet been tested.

“In addition, the FDA is testing rice protein concentrate for a second contaminant, cyanuric acid, a chemical used as a pool cleaner that is high in nitrogen.”

Chinese officials reportedly are investigating the plants where the wheat gluten and rice protein originated. There have been mixed reports as to whether the Chinese government has agreed to let US investigators into the country to check out the plants.

The Post writes that “Steve Miller, chief executive of ChemNutra, a Las Vegas based importer of nutritional and pharmaceutical chemicals, said he suspects that the contamination was intentional. ‘We are concerned that we may have been the victim of deliberate and mercenary contamination for the purpose of making the wheat gluten we purchased appear to have a higher protein content than it did, because melamine causes a false high result on protein tests,’ Miller wrote in an open letter posted on ChemNutra's Web site.”
KC's View:
We are relieved. And reassured.

After all, it was just days ago that the lead story on MNB read as follows:

“The Washington Post this morning reports in a front-page story that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ‘has known for years about contamination problems at a Georgia peanut butter plant and on California spinach farms that led to disease outbreaks that killed three people, sickened hundreds, and forced one of the biggest product recalls in U.S. history.’ However, ‘overwhelmed by huge growth in the number of food processors and imports…the agency took only limited steps to address the problems and relied on producers to police themselves.’”

Okay, maybe we’re not so relieved. Or reassured.

One thing seems clear. Whatever the FDA’s priorities are, and whatever the federal government’s approach to food safety may be, they are wrong, inadequate, and they seem to be putting people in danger from the food supply – normally one of the things that consumers most trust.

This is a problem that is only going to get worse. And consumer confidence is more likely than ever to erode

As for the Chinese problem, normally we’d suggest that they send in Jack Bauer…but even that isn’t working out so well this year.