By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 21, 2007
The Food and Drug Administration has opened a criminal investigation in the widening pet food contamination scandal, officials said yesterday, as it was confirmed that tainted pork might have made its way onto human dinner plates in California.
More than 100 hogs that ate contaminated food at a custom slaughterhouse in California's Central Valley were sold to private individuals and to an unnamed licensed facility in Northern California during the past 2 1/2 weeks. The hogs consumed feed that contained rice protein tainted with melamine, the industrial chemical that has sickened and killed dogs and cats around the world.
Almost a dozen companies have found that they have used melamine-contaminated ingredients from China in their animal foods, either wheat gluten, corn gluten or rice protein concentrate. In the United States, more than 60 million containers of cat and dog food have been pulled from the market in the past five weeks.
People who bought pork from the American Hog Farm, a 1,500-animal facility in Ceres, Calif., between April 3 and April 18 are being advised not to eat the meat, California health officials said yesterday, although there have been no reports of illness in either people or the hogs. Authorities are tracking down all the purchasers.
"We are making the recommendation out of a preponderance of caution," said Kevin Reilly of the California Department of Health Services. "The risk is minimal, but the investigation is very early on."
Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said criminal charges are a possibility, but he declined to say whether there is reason to believe any individual or organization intentionally adulterated pet food.
Late Thursday, Royal Canin USA became the most recent company to recall pet foods. Some of its brands were contaminated with rice protein concentrate. Its South African subsidiary said contaminated corn gluten had been linked to the deaths of 30 pets there.
Five companies received the contaminated Chinese rice protein concentrate. Three firms have identified themselves by announcing recalls; the other two are not publicly known because the FDA will not name them until the companies say they used contaminants in their products.
More than six other companies, some of which make pet food under a variety of labels, have announced recalls because melamine-contaminated wheat gluten was used in their products, starting with a March 16 recall. Wheat gluten is by far the larger ingredient in American pet food, the FDA said.
Although Banfield Pet Hospitals, a large nationwide chain, is working with the FDA to develop a tally of how many pets have died because of melamine in their foods, the company would not say what their survey shows. The FDA will say only that more than 16 cats and dogs have died; other reports from Oregon and Michigan veterinarians alone put the confirmed toll at 96.