Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Food Adulteration Update: Farmed Fish Given Tainted Meal; China Cracks Down; Ordinary Flour (With Melamine) Labeled As Gluten

Put down that salmon fillet you were about to marinate for dinner: the FDA has just announced that an unspecified number of aquaculture facilities have fed melamine-spiked feed to fish, and it is unclear how many of the creatures are already on their way to America's kitchens and restaurants:

TUESDAY, May 8 (HealthDay News) -- After finding its way to America's dinner tables via pork and chicken, the melamine contaminant in recalled pet food may have also been fed to farmed fish, federal health officials announced Tuesday.

Levels of melamine in the fish are probably far too small to affect human health, stressed officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The FDA has so far not disclosed which fish farms received the contaminated food, or how many fish, of what type, may have eaten it.

"We have a preliminary list of fish farms, but I can't share it with you," Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection, told reporters at a teleconference.

It's also not clear how much of the potentially tainted fish -- if any -- has made it to supermarkets.

Meanwhile, China announces it has detained a second individual on charges related to the food adulteration and mislabeling, this time from the Binzhou Futian Biology Technology:

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- The manager of the Chinese company suspected of selling tainted wheat flour to the United States has been detained for nearly two weeks outside Beijing, CNN has learned.

Tian Feng is the manager of Binzhou Futian Biology Technology, which U.S. pet food distributors have identified as the company that sold them wheat flour -- mislabeled as wheat gluten or rice protein concentrate -- containing melamine and related products.

Tian's company was shut by local police on April 25, the day he was detained.

"I didn't do anything wrong," Tian said in an interview with CNN from the detention center in Binzhou in China's eastern Shandong Province.

Dressed in a white T-shirt and orange prison vest, Tian said, "I don't know about melamine. I don't even know what this melamine is. I have never heard of anyone using it."

Under Chinese law, police can hold Tian for 30 days while the investigation continues. After that, he must be tried or released.

Today, China also announces a general food and drug safety crackdown and will this month be trying a former top drug official--one whose greed-fueled actions had tragic consequences--on bribery and corruption charges:

SHANGHAI (AP) — China launched a food and drug safety crackdown Wednesday, following an announcement that authorities had detained managers from two companies linked to contaminated pet food that killed dogs and cats in North America.

State media, meanwhile, reported the country's disgraced former top drug regulator would go on trial this month on charges of taking bribes to approve untested medicine.


China's State Council, or Cabinet, said the nationwide crackdown would compel companies to adopt "standards used in food-importing countries ... and test products which will be used to make animal feed or food for humans."

The government must "strengthen its investigations into protein products, especially melamine," the notice said.

That appeared to reflect concern over the impact of the scandals on China's exports of seafood, food additives and other such products, which compete strongly on price but which have been repeatedly singled out for contamination or low quality.

In one such recent case, Mississippi on Tuesday banned catfish from China after tests found ciprofloxacin and enrofloxacin, antibiotics that are banned for use in the United States.

Tainted drugs are also a serious problem. Recent reports have accused a Chinese company of selling diethylene glycol, a chemical cousin of antifreeze, that ended up in medicine that killed at least 51 people in Panama.

Zheng Xiaoyu, the former director of the State Food and Drug Administration, is accused of taking up to $780,000 in bribes to approve untested medicines, including an antibiotic that killed at least 10 patients.

And all that imported "gluten" and "protein concentrate" responsible for the deaths of thousands of companion animals as well as an unknown number of animal and, I don't doubt, human ailments? It was flour. That's right: plain old inexpensive flour, loaded up with nitrogen-rich melamine and cyanuric acid so that samples would give high protein readings, and then labeled as gluten, the protein-rich ingredient made from processed grains like wheat:

The contaminated ingredients from China that led to the massive pet-food recall were both actually flour, mislabeled to look more valuable than they actually were, federal officials said Tuesday.

The flour, thought to be wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate, contained melamine to appear higher in protein, the Food and Drug Administration speculated.

The mislabeling went undetected by pet-food makers who used the ingredients, the importers who imported them and the FDA for weeks.

Now, I have not eaten red meat in twenty-six years, nor did I consume poultry for most of those. But I've always enjoyed a nice piece of grilled fish from time to time, especially salmon: hasn't every doctor and nutritionist around been touting its healthy fatty acid profile as benefiting everything--heart health, brain chemistry, joint flexibility, and immune-system strength? Even many dermatologists recommend eating salmon a few times a week in order to keep skin looking its best.

I won't bother asking What next? because, truth be told, a part of me isn't sure I want to know. So far, officials and scientists have found illegal antibiotics in Chinese catfish (the importation of which was banned in Mississippi on Tuesday); diethylene glycol (antifreeze) in cough and cold medicines; and melamine and cyanuric acid in wheat gluten and rice protein, as well as in the bodies of the animals consuming it: cats, dogs, pigs, chicken, and now, fish.

So I've stopped buying chicken for the family, and I've got the animals on Newman's Own Organic pet food, which is made in America--with organic American ingredients that do not include rendered beasts and other unspeakable nastiness--and which is not significantly more expensive than the Iams stuff I'm kicking myself for having fed them prior to this spring. A trip to the supermarket for a few essentials can now take over an hour, since I obsessively read every label, ever on the lookout for gluten (most English muffins contain gluten, but I found a terrific organic brand, made entirely from US-grown whole grains, that actually costs less than the gluten-containing, chemically-enriched globules of dough lining the shelves).

Honestly, I'm sure I'll be a vegan before this is over.

I would be remiss if I didn't once again point you Goldy at HorsesAss; he's been staying on top of the food adulteration issue, too, and has about as much faith in the FDA's laissez-faire approach to protecting our food supply (1% of imported foods and ingredients get inspected!) and Don't-worry-eat-happy platitudes as I do.

More soon, I'm sure.

Also at Shakesville.

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