The Long Leash of Imports
The recent pet food recall - which involved close to 100 pet food brands - rattled pet owners around the country. As a dog owner myself, I was immediately concerned for my pet. But as the situation unfolded, my concerns went beyond cats and dogs.
The pet food industry is an extension of the human food industry. Many large pet food companies are owned by major players in the food industry. Nestle, for example (though not involved in the recall), owns Alpo, Fancy Feast, Friskies, Mighty Dog and Purina One.
The FDA has reported that the major source of the pet food contamination was imported wheat gluten from China. The wheat gluten was found to contain melamine, a toxin used in glue, fertilizer and plastics.
Wheat gluten is a natural protein derived from wheat flour. Besides being an ingredient in pet food, it is a food additive used as a thickener, dough conditioner, and meat substitute. It can be found in products such as cereal and tortillas. It is also used as an additive in commercial bakery items and special purpose flours. The National Association of Wheat Growers reports that about 70 percent of wheat gluten used in the U.S. is imported, mainly from the European Union, but also from Australia and China.
The Chinese company responsible for the contaminated product claims that it did not manufacture the wheat gluten, but instead obtained it from companies in neighboring provinces. This traceability ambiguity should cause concern. Experts at the FDA have assured consumers that the contaminated wheat gluten has not entered our food supply, but the shear fact that the supply chain has become so extended is disconcerting.
Traceability methods have improved drastically over the past few years, but still are not as seamless and efficient as they need to be. And logically, the more steps and the more distance you add in the quest for less expensive or more plentiful supplies, the more steps and the further you need to go to find the source of contamination and stop it. As the pet food recall unfolded, more and more brands were added to the list and agency officials are not guaranteeing that that list won't continue to grow. The FDA is tracing the route of nearly three months' supply of the Chinese wheat gluten, all of which reportedly contained minimal labeling.
Though I would never minimize our country's love for our pets, I can't help but see the potential for this situation to have been even more devastating.
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