Washington -- An industrial chemical linked to the deaths of 16 pets and recall of more than 100 pet foods in the United States has been found in a third ingredient shipped from China, federal health officials said yesterday.
Tests conducted by a South African pet food company, Royal Canin, found melamine in a shipment of corn gluten from China.
The discovery deepens American investigators' suspicion that Chinese manufacturers purposely laced pet food ingredients with melamine to raise the value of their shipments, federal health officials said. Melamine, a plastic derivative not approved for use in food, raises the level of protein in an ingredient so it can be sold as gluten.
"It would certainly lend credibility to the theory that [the contamination] is intentional," said Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the Food and Drug Administration. To pursue the theory, investigators want to inspect Chinese suppliers, but they have so far failed to get visas.
The FDA does not believe any contaminated corn gluten was shipped to the United States, Sundlof said.
To conduct inspections, the FDA has been stopping all Chinese shipments of wheat gluten, another pet food ingredient found to be tainted with melamine.
The agency is not stopping corn gluten shipments at the border yet, but Sundlof said the FDA is expanding the number of imported products it is testing and it may add corn gluten.
Confirmation of adulterated corn gluten comes just days after another pet food ingredient shipped from China, rice protein concentrate, was found to be contaminated. On Tuesday, Natural Balance Pet Foods announced it was recalling all venison dog products and venison cat food because they contained rice protein.
A second pet food maker that adds rice protein concentrate to its products issued a recall yesterday. Blue Buffalo Co. recalled one production run of Spa Select Kitten dry food after test results confirmed the presence of melamine, according to its Web site.
Blue Buffalo, a Wilton, Conn., producer of natural pet food, said it is recalling 4,752 bags of the dry cat food. They all bear the production code "Best Used By Mar. 07 08 B." The company said it was able to prevent most of the bags from entering retail distribution.
Three other pet food makers may have received tainted rice protein concentrate, said FDA officials, who declined to name the companies because their investigation has yet to confirm the presence of melamine.