Tuesday, May 01, 2007


FDA limits Chinese food additive imports

By Elizabeth Weise and Julie Schmit, USA TODAY

The Food and Drug Administration is enforcing a new import alert that greatly expands its curtailment of some food ingredients imported from China, authorizing border inspectors to detain ingredients used in everything from noodles to breakfast bars.

The new restriction is likely to cause delays in the delivery of raw ingredients for the production of many commonly used products.

The move reflects the FDA's growing unease with what the alert announcement called China's "manufacturing control issues" and that country's inability to ascertain what controls are in place to prevent food contamination. For example, the agency says that, after weeks of investigation, it still does not know what regions of China are affected or what firms there are major manufacturers of vegetable proteins.

Inspectors are now allowed to detain vegetable-protein imports from China because they may contain the chemical melamine. Melamine, used in the manufacture of plastics, was found in the wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate that has led to the recall of 5,300 pet food products.

Melamine's effects on humans, if ingested, is unclear. In fact, the chemical has not been found in earlier tests to be highly toxic, a fact that has scientists looking for second chemical agent that could be increasing its toxicity.

The agency for the first time also said it has received reports, which it has yet to confirm, that approximately 1,950 cats and 2,200 dogs died after eating contaminated food. The only number of pet deaths that the FDA has confirmed thus far is 14.

An import alert of this breadth is rare. Before this new FDA action, only products from two Chinese companies that exported the melamine-tainted wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate had been detained.

Now for the products to reach U.S. foodmakers, the importers will have to prove to the FDA that they are safe. The ingredients restricted include wheat gluten, rice gluten, rice protein, rice protein concentrate, corn gluten, corn gluten meal, corn by-products, soy protein, soy gluten, mung-bean protein and amino acids.

The FDA has not reported finding melamine in food imports for humans from China, yet it last week launched sample testing "out of an abundance of caution," said chief medical officer David Acheson.

The new restriction may be what's needed to shore up consumer confidence that the FDA can protect the food supply, said Jean Kinsey, director of the Food Industry Center at the University of Minnesota. Without such action, the public's distrust will grow, she said.

According to the alert notice posted on the FDA website Friday, the agency has so far taken 750 samples of wheat gluten and products made with wheat gluten and found 330 positive for melamine or melamine combined with another substance. It also found 27 positives out of 85 samples of rice protein concentrate and products made with rice protein concentrate.

All of the samples that tested positive were imported from China.