Tainted Animal Feed: Low Human Risk

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FDA: No Significant Threat of Human Illness From Hogs, Chicken Fed Melamine-Tainted Feed

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

May 2, 2007 -- Animal feed contaminated with a chemical called melamine poses a "very low" risk to humans, says the FDA.

Melamine is a nitrogen-containing molecule that has several industrial uses. It has been used as a fertilizer in some parts of the world, but melamine isn'ta registered fertilizer in the U.S.

Officials from the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently discovered that melamine-tainted Chinese protein products were fed to about 6,000 U.S. hogs in six states, up to 3 million chickens at 30 Indiana broiler poultry farms, and to several million breeder chickens at eight Indiana breeder poultry farms.

The hog feed contained melamine-tainted Chinese rice protein. The chicken feed contained byproducts from pet food made with melamine-contaminated Chinese wheat gluten, says the FDA.

There is no sign that any people or animals became sick as a result of the tainted feed, and people aren't likely to get sick from eating chicken or pork linked to the tainted animal feed, say the FDA and USDA.

At a news conference held yesterday, the FDA's David Acheson, MD, gave three reasons why the FDA and USDA don't see a big risk to humans.

First, the tainted products made up a small portion of the animals' feed. For instance, the contaminated wheat gluten made up about 5% of the chicken's feed, says Acheson, who is the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection.

Second, hogs excrete melamine in their urine. "It is not known to bioaccumulate [build up] in the animal," Acheson says.

Third, people (unlike pets) eat lots of other foods in addition to chicken and pork.

"If you have a contaminated product and it's 100% of the pet food, that's a very different scenario from a human consumer in which chicken or pork is just essentially the meat on the side of the plate with two veggies," Acheson said at the news conference.

The FDA and USDA haven't recalled any chicken or pork linked to the tainted animal feed.

However, any remaining chicken or swine that ate the tainted feed will not be approved to enter the food supply.

The FDA and USDA continue to work with Chinese officials to investigate the problem, which first surfaced in pet food.

SOURCES: News release, FDA. FDA: "Pet Food Recall Frequently Asked Questions." USDA: "Transcript of FDA/USDA Media Teleconference Providing an Update on Adulterated Feed to Poultry and Hogs."

© 2007 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Medically reviewed by Edward Spence, MD; American Board of Pediatrics and American Board of Medical Genetics with subspecialties in Clinical Genetics, Clinical Biochemical Genetics, Clinical Molecular Genetics


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