UPDATE: Now the FDA is investigating whether melamine may have gotten into … wait for it … baby food.
It started out as a pet food contamination crisis – dozens of dog and cat food brands associated with Menu Foods were recalled because pets were dying. An investigation was launched, and as these things so often go, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and scarier and scarier. The latest bit – has melamine entered the human food chain? (Hint – that was a rhetorical question.) What the hell is going on, and by the way, can we trust our regulators?
This just in:
Thousands of Hogs May Have Eaten Contaminated Feed
– Pet Food Scraps Containing Melamine Fed to Hogs in Six StatesBy Lisa Wade McCormick
April 25, 2007
Thousands of hogs in the United States — in at least six states — may have eaten livestock feed contaminated with the chemical melamine, the Food and Drug Administration said.
And health officials are now investigating the possibility that humans may have consumed food containing the chemical that triggered a nationwide recall of pet food.
California officials confirmed hogs at a farm in that state ate the contaminated food — described as salvaged pet food or pet food scraps. Officials were also trying to determine if hogs in five other states — New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Ohio — ate the tainted food.
The FDA has confirmed the urine of some hogs in California, North Carolina and South Carolina tested positive for melamine.
When asked if any of the hogs had entered the human food supply, FDA’s Chief veterinarian Stephen Sundlof said: “At this point, I don’t have a definitive answer other than to say that the issue is being addressed.”
FDA officials are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several states to investigate the now-quarantined farms and determine if those hogs were slaughtered for human food.
“I don’t have the numbers on that right now, but it potentially affects thousands of hogs,” Sundlof said. “Some of the hog operations were fairly sizable.” (Story.)
A criminal probe has been opened, and slowly but surely theories begin to emerge. (By the way, bookmark David Goldstein’s HorsesAss.org, a place that’s doing a bang-up job tracking this story as it evolves – he’s the one who put me onto the protein-boosting angle.) Let me shorthand the thinking and you can bop over to HorsesAss for more detail.
What we may have going on here is a massive program of industrial product tampering. Corn gluten, rice gluten and wheat gluten imported from China is the source of the melamine contamination, and not being a chemist I hadn’t realized initially that melamine (“a urea-derived chemical used in plastic and slow-release nitrogen fertilizer”) is an agent in a process that would allow manufacturers to game apparent protein levels in their prodicts. Goldstein quotes Steve Pickman, a VP at MGP Ingredients, the nation