REMEMBER WHEN MAINLAND CHINA STARTED FLOODING AMERICA WITH TAR HEROIN AT RIDICULOUSLY PRICES TO WEAKEN AMERICA'S YOUTH? Now doing this with our food supply? Testing their effort on pets prior to future attack on human consumption?
XUZHOU, China: U.S. investigators looking into the tainted pet food that killed at least 16 cats and dogs, sickened thousands of pets and led to a recall in North America have traced the problem to this bustling eastern city.
Xuzhou is the home of Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development, a small agricultural products trader that U.S. regulators say was the source of the wheat gluten, distributed to major pet food suppliers in North America, that was at some point adulterated with a toxic chemical that sickened or killed the animals.
Although U.S. and Chinese regulators are still investigating the matter, this city is already yielding clues about how the gluten may have been contaminated, and also exposing some of the challenges faced by China's emergence as a global agricultural products supplier.
If proof is found that melamine was intentionally blended into the wheat gluten, it could be a huge setback for the agricultural trade between the United States and China, which is already battling a reputation for lax food safety standards.
Of particular concern are indications that Xuzhou Anying, whose main office consists of two rooms and an adjoining warehouse here, may have purchased melamine, the chemical linked to the animal deaths. The company has distanced itself from the pet food contamination and recall, saying it neither manufactures nor exports wheat gluten, but only acts as a middleman trading agricultural goods and chemicals.
In an interview last week, the company's manager, Mao Lijun, said he had no idea how wheat gluten with his company's label ended up in the United States or how melamine, a chemical used to make plastics, fertilizer and fire retardant, got mixed into the product.
But somehow, U.S. investigators say, wheat gluten sold by the company ended up in millions of packages of pet food across North America. That gluten was adulterated, leading to one of the biggest pet food recalls in history.
Now, regulators with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are examining the possibility that melamine was intentionally mixed into the wheat gluten in China as a way to bolster the apparent protein content and to meet pet food requirements, according to a person briefed on the investigation.
Stephen Sundlof, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the agency, said at a news conference last week that the agency had found unusually high concentrations of melamine in some batches of wheat gluten, as much as 6.6 percent. The agency said the concentrations were high enough to have led to kidney failure in some pets.
ChemNutra, a Las Vegas company, said it had purchased the wheat gluten from Xuzhou Anying and then shipped it to pet food makers in the United States and Canada. ChemNutra said Xuzhou Anying had provided chemical analysis indicating that there were no impurities or contamination in the product.
ChemNutra also says it was led to believe that Xuzhou Anying operated its own manufacturing facilities.
In recent months, Xuzhou Anying appears to have posted several requests on online trading sites seeking to purchase large quantities of melamine.
In one March 29 posting on a trading site operated by Sohu.net, a Chinese Web site, people who said they were with Xuzhou Anying wrote, "Our company buys large quantities of melamine scrap all year around." There were also postings on several other online trading sites, like ChemAbc.net.
Though some American scientists have questioned whether melamine is toxic enough to kill pets, the chemical is not approved for use in food for humans or pets in the United States.
Despite Xuzhou Anying statements, workers in the area say the company does manufacture gluten. A truck driver who was resting Tuesday across the street from the company's main office said that Xuzhou Anying had manufacturing facilities and that he trucked goods for the company.
"Yes, they have a factory that makes wheat gluten," said the man, who did not give his name and then telephoned the manager of Xuzhou Anying before offering any more information.
On Tuesday, a journalist visited one of the facilities the truck driver identified in the village of Wangdian, south of Xuzhou. The gate to the building was padlocked, but storage sacks that appeared to hold grain or agricultural supplies were stacked up outside the site, which is in a vast wheat and garlic growing region here in Jiangsu Province.
An animal feed company official working next door to the warehouse said he knew that Xuzhou Anying specialized in exporting agricultural goods and was known for its high-quality wheat gluten.
"They used to have their headquarters right over there," said Chen Wei, a technology director at Nanjing Shibide Biologic Technology. "They're pretty well known for their products."
Mao, the Xuzhou Anying manager, turned away visitors to his office Tuesday, saying he was not available and had nothing more to say on the matter.
Chinese regulators say they are carrying out a nationwide inspection of wheat gluten supplies.
But there has been no recall in China of wheat gluten made by Xuzhou Anying even though its wheat gluten could be used to make bread and other food items.
People in the wheat gluten industry in this part of China said they were not even aware of any new inspections or investigations of the product.
"We never heard the news of tainted pet food," said Li Jundang, manager of Shandong Binzhou Tianjian Biotechnology, a wheat gluten producer in the city of Binzhou, which is about an hour's flight north of Xuzhou.
In Xuzhou, even the news outlets have not been alerted to the story of the pet food recall that involved a local company. "I didn't know this news about Xuzhou Anying," said Li Ning, director of the news department at City Morning Post, a daily newspaper in Xuzhou. "And even if we had heard about the news, we wouldn't be able to report on it because it's negative news."
As to why melamine would be found in wheat gluten, most experts in the region said they had never heard of mixing the two.
"If you add chemicals into the wheat gluten, it is no longer called wheat gluten protein," says Jiang Shaotong, a professor of food engineering at Hefei University of Technology in nearby Anhui Province. "I can't think of any reason why melamine is needed in the production process."
On Tuesday, the Chinese government reported that an elderly man died and 202 people were sickened at a hospital in Heilongjiang Province after they consumed a breakfast cereal that turned out to be laced with rat poison.
A U.S. pet food recall has expanded to include products made at a Canadian factory recently found to have used an ingredient tainted by melamine, The Associated Press reported from Washington.
Menu Foods, a Canadian company, had previously recalled only cat and dog food made at its plants in New Jersey and Kansas, saying they were its only facilities to have taken delivery of imported Chinese wheat gluten later found contaminated with melamine. But Menu Foods discovered Monday that some of the tainted wheat gluten had made it to Canada.
This week, Banfield, The Pet Hospital, a U.S. veterinary hospital chain, said it recorded a 30 percent increase in kidney failure among cats during the three months that pet food contaminated with melamine was sold. Those results, reported Monday, were based on an analysis of records collected by its more than 615 veterinary clinics.