WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Even as fears grow over contaminated
imported wheat gluten in recalled pet food, U.S. production has
been so eroded by low-cost imports that it can no longer supply
domestic demand, domestic makers say.
Only four domestic gluten manufacturers, including two in
Kansas, have survived the flood of foreign wheat gluten bought here
in the last decade at prices cheaper than U.S. producers can make
When the United States removed quotas on gluten imports in 2000,
prices plummeted by about half, said John Neufeld, chief operating
officer for Dallas-based White Energy, which purchased a bankrupt
wheat gluten facility in Russell, Kan.
The U.S. imports roughly 80 percent of its wheat gluten from
Australia, the European Union and China, where the contaminated
wheat gluten behind the recent pet food recall is believed to have
originated, according to figures from the National Association of
Wheat Growers. It is used primarily as an ingredient in the baking
industry, in cereal and in pet food.
More than 100 brands of pet food have been recalled since March
16 because they were contaminated with melamine. An unknown number
of dogs and cats have been sickened or died after eating
chemical-laced pet food.
The contamination has raised alarm among industry leaders, who
say the nation's growing reliance on foreign food supplies
compromises national security.
``Imagine if this was a child _ instead of 30,000 pets. How
about 30,000 children? Would we be thinking, 'Gosh, I am glad I
saved a few cents on that loaf of bread I bought,"' said John
Thaemert, a Sylvan Grove farmer and wheat growers association
On April 26, the government said several hundred of the 6,000
hogs that may have eaten contaminated pet food are believed to have
entered the food supply for humans. The potential risk to human
health was said to be very low.
The food supply chain in the U.S. is highly regulated, but those
safeguards are not always in place overseas. Other countries can
make low cost food products because they have lower labor costs,
less expensive land and less government regulation.
Neufeld's company estimated that the U.S. consumes about 530
million pounds of wheat gluten. Government figures show that about
386 million pounds of that wheat gluten was imported, he said.
White Energy's wheat gluten facility in Russell sells its gluten
primarily to the domestic baking industry. The facility produces 40
million pounds of wheat gluten annually, accounting for just under
8 percent of U.S. gluten consumption, Neufeld said. Its gluten
plant has been running at capacity and has not been affected by the
recent concerns over the imported gluten.
The nation's largest gluten maker, MGP Ingredients Inc., is
based in Atchison, Kan., with another plant in Pekin, Ill. The
company has the capacity to produce 120 million pounds of gluten in
a year but the plants are running at only 20 percent of that
capacity, said Steve Pickman, MGP Ingredients' vice president for
``We have been unable to compete effectively on a price basis
with imported gluten," he said.