Del Monte Foods has confirmed that the melamine-tainted wheat gluten used in several of its recalled pet food products was supplied as a "food grade" additive, raising the likelihood that contaminated wheat gluten might have entered the human food supply.
"Yes, it is food grade," Del Monte spokesperson Melissa Murphy-Brown wrote in reply to an e-mail query. Del Monte issued a voluntary recall Saturday for several products under the Gravy Train, Jerky Treats, Pounce, Ol' Roy, Dollar General and Happy Trails brands.
Wheat gluten is sold in both "food grade" and "feed grade" varieties. Either may be used in pet food, but only "food grade" gluten may be used in the manufacture of products meant for human consumption. Published reports have thus far focused on tainted pet food, but if the gluten in question entered the human food supply through a major food products supplier and processor, it could potentially contaminate thousands of products and hundreds of millions of units nationwide.
Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine said the FDA is not aware of any contaminated gluten that went into human food but said he could not confirm this "with 100 percent certainty." Wheat gluten is a common food additive used as a thickener, dough conditioner, and meat substitute. It is widely used as an additive in commercial bakery items and special purpose flours.
The FDA announced today that it has traced the contaminated wheat gluten to a single processor, Xuzhou Anying Biological Technology of Peixian, China, but has not released the name of the U.S. distributor who supplied the product to Del Monte, Menu Foods, Nestle Purina, and Hills Nutritional. In all, more than 70 brands and over 60 million cans and pouches of dog and cat food are now part of this massive recall, as well as at least one brand of dry cat food.
Public statements have indicated that the contaminated gluten was distributed by a single U.S. company, but since the FDA refuses to name the supplier, it is not yet known if this company also supplies human food manufacturers. It is also not yet known if Xuzhou Anying sells direct to food manufacturers in the U.S. or abroad.
While cats seem particularly susceptible to the effects of melamine poisoning, there is little research on the substance's human toxicity. Unless and until the FDA determines otherwise, one cannot help but wonder if our sick and dying cats are merely the canary in the coal mine alerting us to a broader contamination of the human food supply.
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