FDA Investigation of Imported Chinese Food Additives to Expand

As fears about melamine contamination continue to grow, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced this week that it’s expanding its investigation of imported Chinese food additives. Initially thought to affect only pet food, there are now concerns that the tainted products have made it into livestock feed and perhaps even human food.

Last month, a major recall of pet-food products was initiated after it was revealed that the chemical melamine, a fertilizer and an ingredient used in the manufacture of plastic was found in a wide variety of dog and cat food. The melamine contamination at that time was linked to wheat gluten imported from China. In recent weeks, it was determined that a shipment of Chinese rice protein concentrate was also contaminated with melamine, causing the pet-food recall to expand.

In addition, a California hog farm reported that some of the contaminated rice protein had made it into their hog feed. Last week, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) said that their testing had detected melamine in urine from hogs at the American Hog Farm in Ceres, California. This has spurred concerns that meat supplies intended for human consumption may be contaminated. (However, it is important to note that the toxicity of melamine in humans has been shown to be quite low.)

According to the FDA, two Chinese manufacturers that began supplying their food-additive products to American companies last summer are likely responsible for the melamine outbreak. The FDA added that tainted feed was also used for hogs in New York, Utah, and the Carolinas, as well as on a chicken farm in Missouri; they also reported that a second harmful ingredient, cyanuric acid (which is similar to melamine), had been found in the tainted rice protein.

In light of the growing problem, the FDA announced that it is expanding its investigation to include corn gluten, corn meal, soy protein, and rice bran in addition to wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate. These vegetable-based proteins are commonly used in human food, causing additional fears that melamine may have made it into the human food supply.

FDA officials suspect that the contamination of the Chinese products may have been intentional, done possibly to make it appear that the protein content of the foods in question was higher than it actually was. However, American investigators have been denied access to the two suspected Chinese plants by the Chinese government as negotiations continue.

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