When I started covering the pet food recall for PetConnection.com and our nationally syndicated pet column for Universal Press, I thought that if this had happened to human food, it would have been taken more seriously.
I was wrong.
Today the government announced at least some of the chickens and hogs fed contaminated food were being processed into the human food supply, because, as they say, the risk of the extremely low levels of melamine in their meat pose no risk to human health. But that's not what they said back in April.
From the official transcript, FDA-USDA Update on Recall of Pet Foods, April 26, 2007:
REPORTER: Could I follow up that question? The parts per billion that you found in the urine, is there an acceptable level? You told me what the level is. But how much higher is that than what’s acceptable, or is there no acceptable level?
DR. MCCHESNEY: This is Dan McChesney. I’ll try that one. Currently there’s no tolerance for any of these compounds, either melamine or cyanuric acid. So because of that we really cannot, the likelihood of this leads from very low likelihood of any problems resulting in food that contained these as Dr. Acheson said is really extremely low. However, we just don’t know when we get these mixtures together. So there is no acceptable level.
It's also not just melamine. Melamine, cyanuric acid, ammeline and ammelide are all chemical compounds identified in protein concentrates imported from China. They were found in pet foods. They were found in the urine and tissues of pets. They were found in animal feed that was given to millions of chickens and thousands of hogs, some of which have already been consumed by people. The vast majority, however, have been on hold. Although not, apparently, any longer.
South Africa banned all grain imports from China after the deaths of pets there from contaminated pet food containing corn gluten adulterated with melamine. Pet food companies in this country have recalled hundreds of brands of dog and cat food because of this contamination. Some of those companies may never recover from the financial blow.
So when you read the USDA/FDA press today that says "Scientists Conclude Very Low Risk to Humans from Food Containing Melamine: USDA Releases Some Swine and Poultry for Processing," at least be comforted to know that pet food companies care about your pets more than human food processors - and the government - care about you and your children.