What caused the major pet food recall in 2007?

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In March 2007, the Food and Drug Administration learned that certain pet foods were sickening and killing cats and dogs. FDA found contaminants in vegetable proteins imported into the United States from China, used as ingredients in pet food.

This problem had been documented in years prior, but animals were still being fed the tainted feed. In fact, a portion of the tainted pet food was used to produce farm animal feed and fish feed—which means it could be passed down to humans through food processing. Although government scientists had determined that there is very low risk to human health from consuming food from animals that ate tainted feed, all tainted pet food, animal and fish feed, and vegetable proteins continue to be recalled and destroyed.

The pet food companies involved in the recall used wheat gluten as an ingredient. Despite being labeled as inexpensive filler, wheat gluten is very expensive to manufacture; in fact, no one in the United States makes it. The pet food companies, therefore, imported it from China but, in this instance, their usual importer suddenly went out of business. The companies were able to secure another importer, but instead of exporting wheat gluten, what was really sent was wheat flour—with a melamine extender.

Melamine is often used in plastics, cleaning products, laminates, foam, soundproofing and fertilizer. Moreover, when combined with cyanuric acid, another found contaminant, it caused renal failure in pets.

As a result of FDA and USDA’s comprehensive investigation, on February 6, 2008, the FDA announced that two Chinese nationals and the businesses they operate, along with a U.S. company and its president and chief executive officer, were indicted by a federal grand jury for their roles in a scheme to import products purported to be wheat gluten into the United States that were contaminated with melamine.

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