WASHINGTON -- An American company improperly added melamine to an ingredient in animal and fish feed, federal health officials said yesterday in announcing the recall of the first U.S.-made products containing the potentially dangerous industrial chemical.
Tembec BTLSR Inc. of Toledo, Ohio, is recalling the fish feed ingredients it made with melamine and related compounds, according to Food and Drug Administration officials. Uniscope Inc., a Johnstown, Colo., firm that mixed its livestock feed ingredient with supplies from Tembec, is also recalling products, the FDA officials said.
Melamine and related compounds were found at very low levels in feeds made from the tainted ingredients and pose little risk to human health, said Dr. David W.K. Acheson, the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection. In fact, the government has not asked for the recall of contaminated livestock feed because levels are so small.
Nevertheless, the FDA has not approved addition of melamine to food. Melamine is an industrial chemical used in the production of plastic cutlery, among other things. Investigators blame it and related compounds for killing at least 16 cats and dogs, which led to one of the largest recalls of pet food in U.S. history.
That melamine came from two Chinese firms, which investigators believe spiked wheat gluten shipments with melamine in order to charge higher prices.
Tembec, the first U.S. food maker to be implicated as a melamine source, added melamine and related compounds to make feed hold together better, FDA officials said. The melamine prevents feed pellets from disintegrating before fish or shrimp can eat them.
Tembec sells the fish and shrimp feed ingredients on behalf of Uniscope under the names AquaBond and Aqua-Tec II. Uniscope sells the recalled feed for cattle, sheep and goats as Xtra-Bond. Investigators do not know how many contaminated products were sold or for how long.
Levels of melamine and related compounds in the livestock feed amounted to less than 50 parts per million, FDA officials said. Levels in the fish and shrimp feed were 233 to 465 parts per million. By comparison, the levels in pet food were far higher, at 20 parts per 100, Acheson said.
Uniscope discovered the contamination after federal health officials warned food makers, in the wake of the pet food scare, to check the ingredients they use. Uniscope alerted the government May 18, when Tembec's ingredients tested positive for melamine and related compounds.
The FDA moved for a recall upon confirming the findings. The agency is still investigating, and officials would not discuss any possible penalties. A Tembec spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.
In a statement, Uniscope said it had not received any reports of illness or death and stressed that it was not aware that the ingredients contained melamine. A spokesman said the company was unsure of the extent and duration of the contamination.