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Spiking theorized in pet deaths

The FDA says Chinese firms may have added a chemical to falsely boost a food ingredient.

April 20, 2007|Marc Lifsher and Abigail Goldman | Times Staff Writers

Chinese manufacturers may have intentionally added a chemical linked to pet deaths and illnesses into a protein-powder ingredient in pet foods, federal regulators said Thursday.

Stephen Sundlof, chief veterinarian for the Food and Drug Administration, said melamine, which has turned up in more than 100 brands of cat and dog food, may have been used to falsely boost the apparent nutritional content of rice protein.

"That's still a theory but it certainly seems to be a plausible one," he said.

Melamine, an ingredient in plastics and fertilizers that could lead to kidney failure in animals, has contaminated rice protein and wheat gluten in pet foods made in Canada and the U.S.

The chemical compound reportedly also has tainted corn gluten added to pet food sold in South Africa, the FDA said.

FDA officials said they were investigating whether the melamine might have been added intentionally as a way to charge more for an inferior product. The fact that three protein sources from China contained melamine adds credibility to that theory, Sundlof said.

But the FDA added that it would not be able to check its theory without approval from the Chinese government to inspect the factories where the rice protein and wheat gluten were produced. The FDA said it "fully expects" to get such cooperation.

The Chinese government has said that the contaminated wheat gluten was not meant for pet foods and therefore was not its regulatory responsibility.

The FDA said it had traced the contaminated wheat gluten to Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. in Jiangsu province, just north of Shanghai. The company's general manager, Mao Lijun, said this week that his firm was still investigating the matter. He declined to answer questions.

The FDA also said the North American manufacturers shared some responsibility for ensuring the safety of their pet foods.

"There is an industry responsibility to know who their suppliers are and to exercise some diligence," said Michael Rogers, head of the FDA's division of field investigations.

Pacoima-based Natural Balance Pet Foods, which this week voluntarily recalled four types of dog food containing rice protein, said it would be wary of using any Chinese-made ingredients.

"I can't imagine we'll be using Chinese ingredients again. If we do, clearly it will be with much scrutiny," said spokesman Daniel Bernstein.

Bernstein said the four recalled brands, containing venison and brown rice or venison and green peas, were manufactured by Diamond Pet Foods Inc. of Meta, Mo. Diamond, in turn, bought the rice protein from Wilbur-Ellis Co., a San Francisco-based firm that sells animal feed.

Times staff writer Don Lee in Shanghai contributed to this report.

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