U.S. Company Used Melamine in Feed

By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 31, 2007

An Ohio company has long been adding the industrial toxin melamine to animal feed ingredients, and those feeds have been eaten by livestock and fish meant for human consumption, officials with the Food and Drug Administration announced yesterday.

The company used the chemical as a binding agent to hold feed granules in pellet form, in contrast to the recent pet food scandal, which involved imported ingredients that were spiked with melamine to provide a false measure of protein content, officials said.

But as with the pet food scandal, they said, the levels of melamine involved appear to be too low to harm humans who may have eaten animals that consumed the tainted feed.

The company, Tembec BTLSR of Toledo, sold the melamine-laden ingredients to Uniscope of Johnstown, Colo., which used them to make three finished food products -- one for cattle, sheep and goats, and two for fish and shrimp.

The contamination came to the FDA's attention on May 18 after Uniscope officials tested for melamine in the feed components they were buying -- something the FDA has been encouraging food producers to do.

The FDA began an investigation the next working day, officials said, and after about 10 days decided how to proceed.

Officials said that Tembec initiated a formal recall of its products yesterday and that the company has stopped adding the chemical.

It remains unclear why Tembec did not stop using melamine months ago, given the intense publicity generated by the recent pet food scandal, during which officials repeatedly made it clear that melamine is not an approved additive for human or animal food.

"What they knew and didn't know before will be part of the investigation as it unfolds," David Acheson, the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection, said during a telephone news conference yesterday. For now, he said, "it's speculation in terms of motives and who knew what."

Officials said they do not know how many animals may have eaten the food or how long melamine has been used to make pellets. But the presumption, Acheson said, is that it has been a long-standing practice.

Melamine levels in the companies' livestock feed were so low that they did not pose a risk to the animals, or to consumers, Acheson said. Levels in the fish and shrimp feed were high enough to raise some concerns about those animals, but are still "very unlikely to pose a human health risk," he added.

Acheson said that the two fish feed products, which Tembec made for Uniscope using tainted ingredients, were exported. The FDA is trying to track the amounts shipped and to find out what countries those feeds went to.

He said it is not known whether China -- which has suffered significant political damage in recent months for having been caught exporting melamine-tainted pet food ingredients to the United States -- was among the countries that may have received the melamine-tainted U.S. products.

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