04/26/2007 06:51 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

USDA: Melamine-Tainted Pork Unfit to Eat

The USDA and FDA announced today that meat from hogs fed melamine-tainted "salvaged" pet food would not be approved for human consumption, indirectly raising the specter of a much wider contamination of the nation's pork and chicken supply.

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2007 - The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today notified State authorities that swine fed adulterated product will not be approved to enter the food supply. [...] Because the animal feed in question was adulterated, USDA cannot rule out the possibility that food produced from animals fed this product could also be adulterated. Therefore, USDA cannot place the mark of inspection on food produced from these animals.

Approximately 6,000 hogs from eight pork producers in California, Kansas, North Carolina, New York, Oklahoma and South Carolina are under state quarantine or are voluntarily being held by producers. The USDA is offering to compensate producers who euthanize swine, and to provide assistance in carrying out "depopulation" and disposal.

While the USDA's actions impact only a tiny fraction of the 100 million hogs slaughtered annually, the 6,000 affected hogs represent only those traced to a single batch of salvaged pet food made from contaminated rice protein concentrate imported by Wilbur-Ellis during the week of April 2, 2007. During a conference call with reporters this afternoon, FDA Office of Enforcement Director, Captain David Elder would not rule out wider adulteration from earlier batches of melamine-tainted, salvaged pet food.

"We are still tracking salvaged pet food from other manufacturers," Captain Elder told reporters.

A spokesperson for Diamond Pet Foods, the source of the salvaged pet food eaten by the 6,000 adulterated hogs, explained that "it is a common regulated practice for animal food facilities to provide salvage product to farms with non-ruminant animals." For example, at Diamond, food mixture from the beginning of each production run is routinely sold as salvage because it is "too high in moisture content to run through the manufacturing process."

Assuming that Menu Foods, Purina and Del Monte also sold salvaged food as livestock feed, the number of affected swine and chickens could increase exponentially. Menu Foods alone manufactures hundreds of different recipes at its three facilities, and has recalled over 60 million cans and pouches manufactured from November 8, 2006 through March 6, 2007. Menu Foods would not make itself available for comment, but if it follows practices standard at other manufacturers, salvage from its multiple production runs could have contaminated feed fed to hundreds of thousands of animals over a four-month period. Much of the resulting adulterated pork and chicken would have already made it to supermarket shelves before news of the first round of pet food recalls broke on March 16.

While the FDA and USDA continue to downplay the risk of melamine exposure in humans, they are obviously concerned enough to compensate farmers to destroy thousands of affected pigs. FDA Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David Acheson voiced particular concern over how melamine and other related, contaminating compounds such as cyanuric acid might interact: "This mixture may be more toxic than melamine alone."

With no prior studies of the toxicity of ingested melamine in humans, the exact danger is unknown, but with no established safe level of melamine and related compounds, it seems likely that recalls, quarantines and other precautionary actions will continue to expand.

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