Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Why We Should All Care About the Recent Pet Food Recalls

Yesterday's recall of pet foods containing rice protein concentrate have added to the worries of pet owners who were already concerned over the recalls involving wheat gluten.

As disturbing as the pet food recalls are in themselves, a perhaps even more disturbing story line that is emerging is that we should all be concerned about the use of protein concentrates in the human food supply as well. While there is no evidence yet that any such adulterated products have entered the human food supply, the FDA is taking this possibility seriously:

As an added precaution, however, we have asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use its surveillance network to monitor for signs of human illness, such as increased renal failure, that could indicate contamination of the human food supply.

Protein concentrates such as rice protein concentrate, wheat gluten, soy protein concentrate, etc. are priced largely on the basis of protein content. However, the standards for measuring protein content in the food industry do not measure protein content directly but rather measure nitrogen content, leaving them susceptible to fraudulent introduction of non-food sources of nitrogen such as the Melamine that has been found in recalled pet food. It has already been suggested that the Melamine in wheat gluten imported from China was purposely added to increase protein content measures at reduced price.

This problem of inexpensively priced fraudulent protein content is apparently not a new one. A 2005 web page item on a Chinese food additives exporter's web site warns: (click NEWS button at website)

Recently, we found Rice Protein Concentrate Feed Grade with very low price in market. Its appearance is White, good fineness & good looking. It make some of our customers confused aboutour Rice Protein's appearance and price.

After we searched in the market, we kindly inform everybody,
This kind of product is PSEUDO rice protein, and there are 2 kinds:
1. Inorganic nitrogen and a small part of other vegetable protein mixed together.
2. Biuret (one of the carbamide/urea)

How to know it is PSEUDO RICE PROTEIN: (Based on analysis)
1. Total Nitrogen is Inorganic nitrogen.
2. All proteins have isoelectric point. It has no isoelectric point (pI).

Note: I have no reason to suspect this particular Chinese supplier of any wrongdoing and am pointing to its website merely to indicate that it was warning its customers of this problem in 2005.

While this company was reporting a problem in animal feed additives and the current recalls involve only pet foods, the underlying chemistry and production of human grade protein concentrates is the same and companies would have just as much incentive to inflate protein content numbers at low cost. Moreover, the brand of pet food that was recalled yesterday advertises that it uses uses human grade ingredients.

Canadian author Ann N. Martin, who researched the pet food industry for five years, called Natural Balance's recall "very upsetting." In earlier interviews with, Martin said Natural Balance is one of the few pet foods on the market made with "human grade" ingredients. "These are ingredients that have been inspected and passed for human consumption," says Martin, author of "Food Pets Die For ... Shocking Facts About Pet Food," and "Protect Your Pets ... More Shocking Facts."

For a timely and well written piece on where the blame should fall for much of our current food contamination problems check out this item by Rick Perlstein. Money quote:

George Bush's Food and Drug Administration—and our other major food-inspection arm, the U.S. Department of Agriculture—are Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan's noble words made flesh. But don't let your family get too close to the flesh. They might get sick and die.

I already cared about this story when I was just worried about my cat but the more I look into it, the more worried I get for all of us.

Update: According to Itchmo, the rice protein concentrate in the recalled products was, in fact, imported from China from Binzhou Futian Biology Technology.

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