Agricultural products distributor Wilbur-Ellis has issued a nationwide recall of all lots of rice protein concentrate, after the Food and Drug Administration found additional samples testing positive for melamine. The company is now urging all pet food manufacturers using its rice protein concentrate to recall any pet food that may still be on supermarket shelves.
In an unfolding public health crisis already marked by inexplicable incompetence and willful foot-dragging, Wilbur-Ellis’ press release would border on the comic if the implications weren’t so potentially tragic:
“Last Sunday, April 15, Wilbur-Ellis notified the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that a single bag in a recent shipment of rice protein concentrate from its Chinese supplier, Binzhou Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd., had tested positive for melamine. Unlike the other white-colored bags in that shipment, the bag in question was pink and had the word ‘melamine’ stenciled upon it.”
You’d think, just maybe, the pink bag with the word “melamine” on it might have been a bit of a giveaway, yet on Tuesday, April 17, when I asked the FDA to confirm or deny an impending recall, and specifically mentioned that my source said “the rice protein concentrate has ‘melamine’ listed on the bag,” the FDA categorically denied the rumor, insisting that the information on its website “is up to date.”
Within hours, Natural Balance recalled products due to melamine-tainted rice protein concentrate.
And now, a few days later, we learn that the “white bags” have tested positive for melamine too, establishing a broad pattern of adulteration that we must assume to be intentional until proven otherwise.
First wheat gluten was found to be contaminated with melamine, then rice protein concentrate — and despite FDA denials, I’m hearing corn gluten may be next. But why would manufacturers intentionally spike high-protein food additives with melamine, a urea-derived chemical used in plastic and slow-release nitrogen fertilizer? Steve Pickman, a VP at MGP Ingredients, the nation’s largest domestic producer of wheat gluten, explores one theory:
“It is my understanding, but certainly unheard of in our experience, that melamine could increase the measurable nitrogen of gluten and then be mathematically converted to protein. The effect could create the appearance or illusion of raising the gluten’s protein level. Understandably, any acts or practices such as this are barred in the U.S. How the U.S. can or cannot monitor and prevent these types of situations from occurring in other parts of the world is the overriding question.”
It is a question the current FDA seems unwilling or unable to answer.