Saturday, March 24, 2007

Poisoned pets: Chinese gluten, rat poison and lessons for trade and regulation

[The original post was accidentally deleted during a blogging tool test. This is a repost]

The latest hypothesis is that a rat poison got into Chinese gluten:

Menu Foods president says as a pet owner he's angry over poisoned food

... New York state officials had found a toxic chemical used to kill rats and treat cancer in recalled dog and cat food produced by the company.

Traces of aminopterin were found in tests of food suspected of causing kidney failure in cats and dogs, the officials said...

...The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said the investigation into the pet deaths focused on wheat gluten imported from China. Wheat gluten itself would not cause kidney failure, but a common ingredient could have been contaminated, the FDA said.
These search results are interesting: China aminopterin.

It could be intentional (a form of industrial sabotage, a disgruntled worker, etc) or accidental. Either way, it reminds me of lead contamination in Chinese manufactured holiday lights, and the use of living animal fur in "fake fur" products. It also reminds me of the 1989 contaminated L-tryptophan induced eosinophila-myalgia syndrome "epidemic", thought to have been due to contamination with an industrial product during manufacture of a dietary supplement/alternative medicine.

The common thread in all these cases, and possibly in this one, are the risks of going outside the regulatory and judicial frameworks we are accustomed to. Another theme, of course, is the risk of industrial food -- and what could be more industrial than importing massive amounts of gluten from China? Wouldn't you like to know how the gluten is transported?

In the meantime I haven't been able to switch our mongrel completely off commercial dog food (Eukanaba gluten-free dry - Kateva has canine gluten enteropahthy). Our vet, for example, was quite unenthusiastic. It seems the standards for canine nutrition are hard to meet at the grocery store.

Assuming this is traced to poisoned Chinese gluten, what lessons can we draw? I think it starts with restoring the regulatory framework that, I am reasonably certain, Cheney et al have trashed. We need to take a very hard look at industrialized food for pets and humans alike. Our family now eats "organic" meats and largely "organic" produce, we need to do the same for our dog.

Outside of food, economists need to recognize that "regulatory compliance" and "judicial accountability" is not only a protectionist anti-globalization tactic, it's a legitimate social and public health concern.

Update 3/24/07: Rat Poison Found in Pet Food Linked to 14 Deaths: NY authorities don't know if the aminopterin is really in the gluten, and only some of the gluten was imported from China. They are now explicity saying they haven't ruled out "sabotage". The CDC has been notified. Nobody is talking yet about the all-nighters at the Department of Homeland Security ... (note: I'm just guessing about the Homeland Security part. If I were running it there would be some late nights now.)


Anonymous said...

'Any thoughts as to whether our human food chain may be contaminated with the same aminopterin-laced wheat gluten (or other by-product) that's affected our pet population? I, for one, am concerned. - Leslie Dicharry

John Gordon said...

Homeland security is worried too. I bet it's an industrial accident or a disgruntled employee rather than a true directed attack. That would make it less likely that there's broader contamination.

For what it's worth, however, this has accelerated our family's "eat local organic" trend. We started moving that way when the "mad cow" stories made it impossible to ignore the problems with "factory food". Clearly, those concerns have moved up another notch -- regardless of how the aminopterin entered the (so far) pet food chain.