By KEVIN FREKING=
Associated Press Writer=
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal health investigators suspect that they
will find more farms that received tainted animal feed but stressed
Tuesday that the threat to people is minimal.
The investigators are trying to get a handle on just how much
pet food tainted with an industrial chemical called melamine made
its way into products consumed by pets as well as by hogs and
On Monday, they announced that byproducts from tainted pet food
had been used in chicken feed on some farms in Indiana. A few days
earlier, they said that hog farms in six states may have received
tainted pet food for use as feed.
The pet food in question could be to blame for a wave of dog and
cat deaths in March due to kidney failure. However, Dr. David
Acheson, an assistant commissioner for the Food and Drug
Administration, said the threat level to pets is greater than to
livestock or humans.
``It was only a small portion of what the poultry was fed, and
human consumers will only use poultry as a small portion of their
diet," Acheson said.
By contrast, pets often eat the same product exclusively, he
``The dilution factors here are enormous," he said.
Officials said that as many as 3 million young chickens out of 9
billion slaughtered annually may have eaten feed that potentially
included an ingredient containing the melamine. They have already
been slaughtered for human consumption, but because there is no
evidence that consumption is unsafe, no recall has been issued.
Acheson said that the investigation tracking contaminated pet
food is complex and sweeping, which is why it could lead to the
discovery of new states that are affected.
``There is a distinct possibility that it will broaden,"
Acheson said. ``I'm not saying that it will, but we need to be
prepared for that to happen."
Overall, the FDA has received about 17,000 calls alleging
illness or death of a pet as a result of contaminated food. Of
those, about 8,000 were entered into a database. Roughly half of
those entered alleged an animal death.
The agency will investigate to determine whether the deaths are
associated with the recalled products.
The pet food scare as well as earlier discoveries of E. coli in
spinach and salmonella in peanut butter has led to concerns about
the safety of the nation's food supply.
The FDA reacted to that concern Tuesday by naming Acheson as
assistant commissioner for food protection. One of his first
projects will be to develop a strategy that identifies potential
gaps in the food safety system and what is necessary to address
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers announced their own plans
Tuesday for addressing food safety. Two lawmakers introduced
legislation that would give the FDA the power to order mandatory
recalls of adulterated food products, plus establish fines for
companies that don't promptly report contaminated products.
``The evidence is clear our food safety system is collapsing and
one of the main agencies charged with protecting it, is asleep,"
said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Connecticut Democrat and sponsor of the
bill in the House. ``This needs to change immediately. It is time
to transform the FDA from the toothless agency it has become to one
that takes the proactive steps necessary to protect our food supply
and the public health."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is the lead sponsor of the bill in the
Lawmakers' concerns about the FDA also led to another hearing on
Capitol Hill Tuesday as three former commissioners testified that
the agency needs more money for inspectors and more regulatory
authority over producers and suppliers.
``The fact is that food is a second-tier priority within the
FDA," said Dr. David Kessler, who served as FDA commissioner in
the administrations of the first President Bush and President
Kessler said the federal government has more authority to halt
the distribution of dangerous toys than it has over unsafe food
products. And, the agency has no ability to impose fines on
companies that are slow to remove unsafe foods.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)