Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pet Food Poisoning: Now In Three Protein Ingredients

It has been a sad and ghastly week, a horrific week, really. And I am afraid I'm not going to make it any better by telling you this: officials have found melamine in not one, not two, but three grain proteins--wheat gluten, corn gluten, and rice protein concentrate--exported by China. What's more, investigators at the FDA now admit the possibility that the spiking was intentional--apparently, the nitrogen content in melamine, used as a fertilizer in Asia, boosts the readings in protein testing. A higher protein content, as you'd imagine, translates to higher per-pound revenue.

For the first time, investigators are saying the chemical that has sickened and killed pets in the United States may have been intentionally added to pet food ingredients by Chinese producers.

Food and Drug Administration investigators say the Chinese companies may have spiked products with the chemical melamine so that they would appear, in tests, to have more value as protein products.

Officials now suspect this possibility because a second ingredient from China, rice protein concentrate, has tested positive for melamine. So has corn gluten shipped to South Africa. That means there is a possibility for another round of recalls.

The FDA's top veterinarian, Stephen Sundlof, says finding melamine in so many products "would certainly lend credibility to the theory that it was maybe intentional."

Melamine, which is used to make plastics in the United States and as a fertilizer in Asia, contains nitrogen. Nitrogen can appear to boost the level of protein in products.

Even after going over cat chow labels with a magnifying glass last week, making sure we didn't have any wheat gluten-enriched cat food in our cupboards, I felt uneasy. Now I'm worried as hell, because I was only looking for the wheat variant, truth be told, not corn gluten or rice protein, the latest ingredients to turn up melaminated. Then I read the last sentence of the above story, at which point I felt sick (emphasis mine):

Some of the tainted pet food has apparently made it into feed for hogs. Federal agencies are trying to determine if it was actually fed to animals and whether it may have reached the human food supply.

Yes, federal agencies. One of those.

In charge of keeping our food supply safe.

In a related story, Chinese officials are impeding investigations by American officials, which behavior does little to counter suspicion:

A lawmaker said Wednesday the Chinese have refused to grant visas to FDA inspectors seeking to visit the plants where the ingredients were made. An FDA spokesman later said the visas were not refused but that the agency had not received the necessary invitation letter to get visas.

"It troubles me greatly the Chinese are making it more difficult to understand what led to this pet food crisis," Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told The Associated Press after meeting with the FDA commissioner, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach.

A message left Wednesday with the Chinese Embassy in Washington was not immediately returned.

As for wheat gluten-importer Chemnutra and its founders, the Mysterious Millers, they've hired a press agent.

Even with no conclusive answers from the Food and Drug Association (FDA) on which particular poison is sickening what respectable veterinarian associations claim could be "thousands" of pets, ChemNutra, the U.S. company that imported the tainted wheat gluten from China seems to have disappeared off the radar screen.

All questions to ChemNutra are now being fielded by Stern and Company, a Las Vegas-based public relations firm.

Furthermore, Sally Miller is actually Sally Qing Miller, and--quelle surprise--Stephen Miller may be enjoying some measure of protection (or immunity) courtesy of his relationship with a certain ruling family--you be the judge:

PR flaks are paid to protect clients but the silence from ChemNutra CEO Stephen S. Miller and his wife Sally Qing Miller is deafening.

According to its website, ChemNutra qualifies as a "Woman and Minority-owned Company", meaning that it qualifies for government funding. In other words, Chem-Nutra is attempting to secure or has already landed government funding.


Why haven’t the Millers been called to testify at Senator Dick Durbin’s Subcommittee on Agriculture, World Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies in Washington, D.C.?

Stephen Miller includes E.F. Hutton & Company and Smith Barney as former employers on the ChemNutra website.

Once the respected second largest brokerage firm in the United States, E.F. Hutton & Co. went down in flames.

"The brokerage house was the principal component of what grew into a conglomerate of companies owned by E.F. Hutton Group Inc., listed on the NYSE." (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). "Other subsidiaries of that Delaware-charted holding company were E.F. Hutton Trust Company (now "Smith Barney Corporate Trust Company" and owned by Citigroup), E.F. Hutton Life Insurance Company and E.F. Hutton Bank.

"In the 1980s, the conglomerate disintegrated due to corporate misconduct, mostly by the brokerage firm. The firm had knowingly engaged in money laundering for organized crime (the so-called "Pizza Connection" because money was sometimes delivered in pizza boxes.

"It was not until the president of the brokerage firm, Scott Pierce (the brother of Barbara Bush, wife of then-vice-president of the U.S.) entered his corporation’s guilty plea to 2000 criminal counts of federal mail and wire fraud in 1985, that the Hutton conglomerate fell apart."

Could it be that former Hutton vice president, ChemNutra’s Stephen S. Miller has FDA protection that originates from the highest office of the land?

In a frustrating and even frightening environment in now the five-week-old pet food scare, there are more questions than answers for worried North American consumers.

Write to Senator Dick Durbin, everyone.

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