My interview with Christie Keith about Pet Food Politics has just been posted on the Pet Connection blog site. Pet Connection is the pet care and everything else website that played such an important role in tracking the events of the 2007 pet food recalls. Christie Keith writes regularly for Pet Connection but I first came across her work as the exceptionally thoughtful pet columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. This is a first for me: the interview is a verbatim transcript of a long telephone conversation. The conversation was a lot of fun, but also instructive; it changed my thinking about some issues regarding pet food labeling. Enjoy!
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People whose pets got sick or died as a result of melamine adulteration of pet foods in 2007 are entitled to compensation. The U.S. courts approved the $24 million settlement on November 17. Now, the Canadian courts also have approved the settlement. The $24 million is in addition to the $8 million already paid out. Pet owners who have not yet filed claims can still do so by writing to: In re Pet Food Products Liability Litigation, Claims Administrator, c/o Heffler, Radetich & Saitta LLP, P.O. Box 890, Philadelphia, PA 19105-0890. Tel: 1-800-392-7785. Website: www.petfoodsettlement.com.
Happy Thanksgiving holiday!
I’m told that FDA laboratories are still finding melamine in milk-containing food products imported from China. In response, the FDA has issued a countrywide import alert, meaning that FDA officials can detain the products without having to examine and test them. The list of detainable products is long and includes not only milk but also yogurt, desserts, cakes and cookies, candies, chocolate, beverages, and- shades of 2007 – dog and cat food.
These sound like good steps to get the food safety system under control but what I’m hearing is that the government is dealing with safety problems piecemeal – one food at a time – rather than addressing the system as a whole. Sound familiar?
If your dog or cat was caught up in the melamine pet food recalls of 2007 (see Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine) and you would like to file a claim in the pet food class action suit, go here for information and instructions. The deadline for filing a claim is November 24.
If I learned one thing from my research on the 2007 pet food recalls it is surely that the food supplies for pets, people, and farm animals cannot be separated; they are one and the same. This is because pets eat the parts of animals that we don’t and surplus pet food is fed to pigs, chicken, and fish, which we do eat. Now we have further reason to be concerned about how pet food is made; pet food contaminated with Salmonella can cause infections in people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just published its epidemiological investigation, of infections caused by dry dog food produced at a plant in Everson, PA owned by Mars Petcare. Scientific American even thinks that this is worth writing about. Me too, obviously, particularly because cases are still cropping up even though Mars issued recalls.
Update, November 10: the New York Times reports on this.
The British Food Standards Agency has been checking on levels of melamine in sweets imported from China. Some candies contained as much as 152 milligrams melamine per kilogram (mg/kg) or parts per million (ppm). A kg is 2.2 pounds, which would be a lot of candy to eat. Some of the tainted infant formula contained 2,500 mg/kg, but you only use a scoop (10 grams or so) to make up a bottle of infant formula, and that would contain 25 mg.
I realize that I am asking the wrong question – melamine should not be in food at all – but how much is safe to eat? To follow this, you have to pay close attention to the difference between mg/kg melamine in food versus the amount per kg body weight.
The FDA says 2.5 mg/kg in food is unlikely to be harmful in anything other than infant formula. The FDA’s May 2007 melamine risk assessment said 63 mg/kg body weight was safe for adults but it established a Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) 100 times lower, or 0.63 mg/kg body weight per day. The European TDI is even lower: 0.5 mg/kg body weight per day. Using the European TDI, a person weighing 80 kg (176 pounds) could supposedly safely consume 40 mg melamine from food a day. But a baby weighing 5 kg (12 pounds) drinking infant formula containing 25 mg melamine would be getting 5 mg/kg body weight with every bottle – ten times the European TDI. And babies drink several bottles a day. And if a by-product of melamine, cyanuric acid, is also present, kidney crystals can form at much lower concentrations.
All of this begs the question: how come it is there in the first place and what are the food safety agencies going to do about it? And when? In the meantime, food companies should be testing anything with protein in it for melamine and it’s best to avoid eating foods made in places where they aren’t doing such testing.
I had never heard of this before but Marshal Zeringue runs a blog and a website devoted to the Campaign for the American Reader and what he calls “The Page 99 Test.” The idea is that what’s on page 99 is a pretty good indicator of what the book is about and how it reads. Here’s his blog entry. And here’s how Pet Food Politics fares on the Page 99 test.