An already massive recall of dog and cat food is expanding with US federal agents searching facilities of a manufacturer and one of its suppliers as part of their investigation, the companies disclosed on Friday.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials searched a pet food plant in Kansas operated by Menu Foods and the Nevada offices of ChemNutra Inc, the companies said.
Menu Foods made many of the more than 100 brands of pet food recalled since March 16 because of contamination by the chemical melamine. ChemNutra supplied the manufacturer with wheat gluten, one of the two ingredients tainted by melamine used in the recalled pet products. Both companies said they were cooperating with the investigation.
Menu Foods also said the US Attorney's offices in Kansas and the western district of Missouri have targeted the company as part of misdemeanor investigations into whether it violated the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The sale of adulterated food is a misdemeanor.
The FDA also is looking at all other ingredients imported by ChemNutra, and trying to reconcile what it imported with what it supplied to customers, agency spokeswoman Julie Zawisza said.
Import records obtained show that since last May ChemNutra also imported 199,582kg of the second suspect pet food ingredient, rice protein concentrate, from the same Chinese trading agent that handled exports of the tainted wheat gluten.
It is unknown whether ChemNutra's rice protein concentrate was contaminated. Limited testing suggests it was not. However, another company's imports of that ingredient, albeit from a different source, have been found to be tainted.
Ten of the 11 containers of rice protein concentrate imported by ChemNutra during the last year went to undisclosed pet food companies, spokesman Steve Stern said. The 11th is under quarantine and being tested. But only one of the other 10 is known to have been tested; results from those tests, done last week, showed it was not contaminated, Stern said.
The origin within China of the wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate remains murky. For example, ChemNutra's source for the two vegetable proteins, Suzhou Textile Import and Export Co, said that food ingredients are not part of its business, but employees often take on side deals. Stern said ChemNutra dealt with the company's president.
The FDA has blocked wheat gluten imports from a second Chinese company, Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. That company has said it bought the ingredient from other undisclosed firms and then sold it to Suzhou Textile.
Meanwhile, rice protein concentrate imported by the second company, Wilbur-Ellis Co, has tested positive for melamine. It came from a different Chinese source, Futian Biology Technology Co.
Last week, the FDA blocked rice protein concentrates from that source. On Friday, American Nutrition Inc became the final of five pet food companies that Wilbur-Ellis supplied with the tainted ingredient to recall a variety of products.
The products recalled were manufactured by American Nutrition for other independent companies, and American Nutrition brands were not part of the recall, the company said in a statement.