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FDA and USDA Give Tainted Food Briefing, Poisoned Wheat Gluten Used in Fishmeal and Fed to Fish

This is the transcript from yesterday's press briefing by the USDA and the FDA on all the tainted food issues. I was not comforted as...

Joy  |  May 9th 2007


This is the transcript from yesterday’s press briefing by the USDA and the FDA on all the tainted food issues. I was not comforted as I read it. In fact, if you read between the lines it becomes very apparant that these agencies are simply CYAing as fast as possible. They seem to have no hope of getting a real handle on the problems.

Why do I say that?

    The agencies still say the tainted chicken and now fish are relatively safe to eat based on some notion that just because we won’t immediately drop dead as soon as some of it enters our bodies that it’s okay to eat it.

    Their risk assessment is as lily-livered as possible. Instead of doing the prudent thing and stopping all food shipments from the country where clean food seems to be the unusual, the agencies are allowing all shipments to continue entering the continent and looking for a few bad apples, so to speak. Hey, with the Chinese record on food safety, look for a few GOOD apples instead. Besides, isn’t it obvious from how the Chinese have have handled these recent problems that they have no interest in cleaning up their own food supply? Don’t we have enough evidence that the only answer is to stop all food shipments until the Chinese prove they can supply safe products?

    The agencies just figured out that the tainted wheat gluten and rice protein aren’t that at all– they are wheat flour! The Chinese companies were so unethical they didn’t even bother to send the basic product at all; they just ground up wheat into flour, added melamine and sent it over. And one more time, we allow them to ship in products! WHY?

    The agencies are refusing to give us the names of the fish producers that fed the tainted fishmeal. They won’t even tell us the types of fish! Talk about being corporate toadies!

I’m sure there is more but these points should be enough to make you wonder who pays their salaries, the American people or the food producers.

TRANSCRIPT OF MEDIA BRIEFING UPDATE BY FDA AND USDA REGARDING ADULTERATED ANIMAL FEED

Washington D.C. – May 8, 2007

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. I’m Julie Zawisza, assistant commissioner for Public Affairs with FDA. I’d like to welcome you to this briefing this afternoon on the melamine investigation. As you probably know, this is an interagency effort at this point, and we have speakers from the FDA, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and from Customs and Border Protection. We also have several FDA officials here and officials from the other two agencies available to answer questions later on in this briefing. We have three speakers this afternoon, and they will make some brief remarks, and then we will go right into the Q and A.

Our first speaker is Dr. David Acheson. He is Assistant Commissioner for Food Protection with the FDA. Our second speaker will be Dr. Kenneth Petersen who is the Assistant Administrator for Field Operations with the USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service. And our third speaker is Ms. Vera Adams, the Executive Director of Commercial Targeting and Enforcement with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Then during the question and answer segment, we have Dr. Stephen Sundlof, who’s the Director of our Center for Veterinary Medicine at FDA available. We have Captain David Elder, who is Director of the Office of Enforcement with FDA; and Mr. Michael Rogers, Director of the Division of Field Investigations; and Mr. Walter Batts, Deputy Director of our Office of International Programs. I suspect we have several individuals as well from the USDA and Customs and Border Protection who will step in as needed.

At this time I’d like to turn it over to Dr. Acheson.

DR. ACHESON: Thank you. This afternoon I would like to address two issues with you all, which are two new ones, and then obviously old issues if we have to address that in Q and A. But I’m going to focus on two.

The first is related to a misrepresentation of the wheat gluten and the concentrated rice protein. I want to preface it by saying as you are all aware we have been following wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate from two sources in China, and have undertaken a number of tests with those related to the detection of melamine and melamine-related compounds. As part of our strategy just to ensure that we are following this in all possible directions, a portion of both the wheat gluten and the rice protein concentrate that was already a concern because of melamine has been further analyzed by our forensic chemistry center. And we have discovered that these products, labeled wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate, are we believe mislabeled, and that they actually contain wheat flour that is contaminated with the melamine and melamine-related compounds.

As we discussed previously, none of these products have been used as ingredients directly in the human food supply. We are not talking about a new set of ingredients. These are the ones we have been tracking since the beginning of this situation. We’ve just taken the analysis of those a little further. And to reemphasize what we’ve discovered is that these are not wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate, but are in fact wheat flour contaminated with melamine.

The FDA considers this product to be mislabeled based on what I’ve told you and we’re considering possible enforcement options. Again I want to emphasize that these mislabeled products are from the two Chinese firms previously discussed, previously identified in prior discussions and press conferences. None of this changes the findings regarding the levels of melamine or melamine-related compounds in relation to the risk assessment and its feeding to animals. So that part is essentially unchanged.

The second point that I want to raise relates to the issue of fish and fishmeal. Again as part of our ongoing tracebacks and trace-forwards, trying to understand where this contaminated wheat gluten may have gone, we learned that a portion of the mislabeled wheat gluten from the Chinese firm was sent to Canada and when in Canada was used to manufacture fishmeal, and that that fishmeal was then imported back into the United States for use in feeding fish in certain industrial aquaculture type situations. As I said, this fishmeal was made in Canada and the Canadian authorities are aware of our findings.

As with the situation with the poultry and the hogs, the levels that we’re seeing in the fishmeal are very comparable, and therefore based on the risk assessment we do not believe there is any significant human health risk associated with consuming these fish. The investigation is very active at this point. We know of a number of firms that received this fishmeal and our investigators are as we speak getting out there to those firms to determine just exactly what they are doing with the fish that were fed this fishmeal.

We have so far managed to get to one of these establishments where we confirmed the positive finding, and that particular establishment is dealing with very small fish that are ones that are I believe called fry or small. So these are tiny fish that are not yet ready for human consumption anyway. That is really just the current state of this investigation. This is obviously a new finding linking this to the fishmeal, and it’s going to follow I think a very similar pattern as we have with the other investigation. We’ll get out there, we will find out what’s going on at the individual aquaculture industrial fish facilities and follow up as appropriate.

With that I would like to hand back to Julie. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Dr. Acheson. Dr. Petersen with the Department of Agriculture.

DR. PETERSEN: Okay, thank you, and good afternoon everybody. Yesterday, FSIS or USDA and FDA announced the results of a risk assessment that looked at the potential for adverse human effects from melamine compounds. Based on the findings of the determination from that risk assessment that there was a very low risk to humans as announced, USDA and FDA are initiating the appropriate course of action regarding swine and poultry that consumed any contaminated feed.

In some cases although the contaminated feed can be traced to farms, the feed that was actually consumed by the animals had a very low amount of the pet food scraps as we’ve previously discussed. That feed became so diluted from the small amount of pet food scraps that any tests no longer detected the presence of melamine or melamine compounds, so there was a negative feed test. In those cases, as announced yesterday, some poultry have begun to be released.

In other cases, the feed on the farms either tested positive for melamine and melamine compounds or there was no feed available to test. Those swine and poultry are still being held either under state quarantine or voluntarily by the owners pending the results of an animal exposure risk assessment and any other investigatory findings, and both of those are under way.

The animal exposure assessment will provide us with additional scientific data about the level of melamine and its compound in animal tissues and any decrease of the amount of melamine in animals’ body as it’s excreted through the urinary tract.

All of this will help us apply solid scientific data to supplement the science-based findings in the risk assessment from yesterday. So although we expect that the animal exposure assessment will support the findings of the human risk assessment, we’re continuing to take a measured approach until that assessment and the other information from the investigation is finished. But if the risk assessment proves positive, we would expect the release for inspection and processing of all the swine and poultry that remain on hold in connection with this ongoing investigation.

We do expect to have the animal exposure assessment completed very soon, quite likely by the end of this week. Again, this is being conducted by an interagency group comprised of representatives from FDA and FSIS, Customs and Border Protection, CDC, and EPA. And with that, we’ll turn it back to the moderator.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Dr. Petersen. And we’ll hear from our last speaker, Ms. Vera Adams, with Customs and Border Protection.

MS. VERA ADAMS: Thank you. To supplement the government effort to ensure that no further contaminated products are entering the U.S., CBP has undertaken some additional sampling and testing of imported wheat and corn gluten as well as rice protein concentrate and isolates arriving from all countries, destined for human and animal consumption.

Once we have taken the sampling, we send those samples to our laboratory systems where they will be testing for any contaminants and making sure these products present no further risk. There’s really no evidence at this time to suggest that the bulk of these products present any risk or have any further contamination beyond what the FDA has already identified from the Chinese companies. However, we are conducting these wider tests as a precautionary step to ensure that these types of products entering through the U.S. ports of entry are safe.

We do routinely conduct testing of products entering the United States, and we have seven regional labs throughout the country that mirror FDA procedures. Specifically the sampling for the rice protein, wheat and corn gluten began last week, and we are working to get the results of those samples back as expeditiously as possible to add to the information pool for this wider government effort. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Vera. At this time, ladies and gentlemen, we will take your questions. Please state your name and affiliation?

OPERATOR: Andrew Martin, you may ask your question and please state your affiliation.

REPORTER: Hi. I’m with the New York Times. A quick question for Ms. Adams and then for Dr. Acheson. You say you’re testing wheat, corn gluten and rice protein concentrate, and we just heard that in fact it was wheat flour. So I’m wondering if you’re testing the wrong thing. And then I wanted to ask Dr. Acheson, if you could explain further how you sort of determined that this wasn’t in fact wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate. I don’t know what these things look like, but is it that readily apparent?

MS. ADAMS: This is Vera. I’ll answer your question. If it’s misrepresented as wheat gluten then it’s important that we target wheat gluten. And in addition we are constantly in contact with FDA and USDA to evaluate whether what we need to be targeting and testing needs to be changed.

REPORTER: Thank you.

DR. ACHESON: To try to answer the second part of your question, first of all just to maybe clarify a point, this product did come into the United States labeled as wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate, so if that’s what’s being targeted it would find this. In terms of how did we discover this, it was a combination of assays that were done to determine this. First of all using something called stereoscopic light microscopy and polarized light microscopy, and this essentially just characterizes the product initially and is just sophisticated direct visual microscopy. That’s been followed by a type of chromatography that is looking specifically at levels of starch, and it’s based on those two criteria that the forensic chemistry center was able to determine that the levels in starch that we found in these products were such that it made it very likely that it was wheat flour.

MODERATOR: Andrew, do you have a follow-up?

REPORTER: So does that change – I know the other day Dr. Acheson, you said you were going out to various manufacturers that use the stuff to see if it’s contaminated. Does that change your protocols now? Are you also going to look at wheat flour, or is it just specifically looking at things that are labeled as wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate?

DR. ACHESON: The focus is on the rice, things that were labeled as wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate, as were these. Where we are as I’ve said before planning on expanding the assignments as we learn more and we get the ingredient side of this figured out, I don’t exclude the possibility that we will get into sampling wheat flour specifically. But right now that’s not the top priority. This was not coming in labeled as wheat flour. It was coming in labeled as wheat gluten.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Brian Hartman you may ask your question.

REPORTER: Hi. First off, I was in early but the whole top of the call didn’t get picked up. Then my real question is, given that China’s manufacturers and agricultural sector, pretty much everything in China that’s coming from China, every sector seems to have a problem. Shouldn’t you expand everything, your investigation of everything that comes across the border from China at this point?

DR. ACHESON: What we’re doing is trying to expand our assessment based on where we’re seeing the risks, and if you’ve been following the story this is shifting constantly. We started out with a focus on a single company. It then expanded to import alert on the two companies. That subsequently expanded to import alert of all protein concentrates coming in from China. We’re extending that into sampling strategies for pet food coming in that could contain melamine as well as animal feed. So it is expanding as we go, and as you heard from our colleague at Customs and Border Protection they are also expanding it.

I think one has to focus this on a risk basis. You have to put the resources where you believe the risk to be greatest and we are moving the resources based on that, and we’ll continue to do that.

REPORTER: I guess my question is, what don’t we know that is being put in Chinese products and shipped into the U.S. I mean, we didn’t know about melamine, we’re hearing about these catfish that have antibiotics and chemicals in them. I mean, what don’t we know because we’re not looking at it?

DR. ACHESON: Well, if I could tell you what we don’t know, I’d know. So that’s not meant to be a facetious answer, but it’s the only logical one I can come up with. We are not just looking for melamine. We have screens for a whole range of chemical compounds, and we are putting this material through those screens. So this is not melamine-focused solely. We are looking for a variety of other things just in case, based on nothing other than we have the technology, we have the samples, so it makes it smart to look more broadly. But obviously we are keeping our eyes open, we’re working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If we start to see unusual spikes of inexplicable illness, clearly we’d ask those questions.

So we’re being as broad as we can within, but making maximum use of resources.

MODERATOR: Brian, you said you missed the top of the briefing.

REPORTER: I don’t want to waste everyone’s time but there might be other people-I know at least one other person here at ABC missed the top of the briefing. We were waiting in the queue. I don’t know if other people that maybe you want to redo it. Otherwise, I don’t want to waste everyone else’s time.

MODERATOR: We’re going to go ahead and take questions and keep this moving and then we will have a replay that will be available in an hour. But I may ask the speakers to very quickly summarize what you presented earlier on at the beginning of the briefing. But let’s take some questions first. Next question?

OPERATOR: Deirdre Henderson, you may ask your question.

REPORTER: Hi. Thanks for doing this. I was also stuck in the queue and picked up the call about the fishmeal made in Canada stage. Following up on the caller’s question about the antibiotics found in Chinese imported catfish, is that one of the areas where the FDA is looking at a higher risk import, and are you looking at that catfish in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and testing it for melamine?

DR. ACHESON: The short answer to that question is yes. We have an assignment that is already underway as part of our risk based approach to protecting the food supply. That’s an assignment which is focused on obtaining and testing a range of different fish samples, looking for antibiotic residues and other things. We have just very recently validated an assay for melamine in fish. That is something that we did not have a week ago. Our assay teams have been moving really fast and we now have a validated assay for melamine in fish. And that is going to be added into our screening looking for the antibiotic residues. So that’s something that we’ve added in. We’re going to go and test any remaining fish samples that we have that are currently in the lab as part of this assignment, and as new samples come in we will test those for melamine related compound.

Now depending what we find on that testing, that is going to drive the next step. Obviously if we find levels, particularly if they are significant, that’s going to a have a different series of next steps than if these are negative.

Again it’s focused on where the risks are likely to be and the resources that we have to devote to it.

REPORTER: Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question is David Curley (sp). You may ask your question.

REPORTER: Is it David Curley? It appears that the Chinese news agencies now say China believes these two companies exported this, added the melamine illegally and exported it to get around inspections. Is that your understanding of what you think happened?

DR. ACHESON: As you know our investigators are currently on the ground in China asking those very kinds of questions. We’re working closely with the Chinese authorities both from Washington as well as locally, and I think as the investigation unfolds we will have more definitive answers as to what exactly happened in China, potential explanations as to why it happened.

REPORTER: But this seems to be a complete turnaround. Which story should we believe? I mean we’re further down the road. Do you think the Chinese have finally accepted the fact that this is what’s happened?

DR. ACHESON: I can’t speak from FDA as to what the Chinese have accepted. We are following this up on first principles, and our main concern is that we have these food items coming into the United States that contain agents that they shouldn’t, and we’re following that up. As to exactly why it happened in China is part of the investigation the Chinese are undertaking, again with our investigators. Obviously in the longer term, those questions are important in terms of trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

REPORTER: Finally, your inspectors have been there a week. Anything you can share, anything at all?

DR. ACHESON: At this point it’s still ongoing. They are out there, I know they are getting to the establishment, some of them have concern. I really don’t have anymore specifics at this point that I can share.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Rick Weiss, you can ask your question.

REPORTER: Hi. Rick Weiss, Washington Post. First, I’ll just say that a couple of us here in Washington also only managed to get in on this thing after you had done your initial stuff. So you might want to recap that sooner rather than later because maybe there are some questions about that that we don’t know to ask since we don’t know what you said.

MODERATOR: We’ll do that after your question.

REPORTER: Okay. But I did catch the last word of it. It sounded like it was something about wheat flour instead of wheat gluten, and that makes me wonder whether to the extent you are finding out this is about flour instead of gluten or something. Is there anything in this new information to add to the possibility that some of this stuff has entered the human food supply directly as opposed to only being used for ingredients for pet food and so on?

MODERATOR: Rick, I’m going to ask you to hold in the queue and ask Dr. Acheson to go back and summarize the points he made at the top. It sounds like a lot of people didn’t hear that and will be disadvantaged in the kind of questions they want to ask. Would that be okay, Dr. Acheson?

DR. ACHESON: After all, and I apologize, that happened. It’s probably because we started on time.

MODERATOR: Yes, I think so.

DR. ACHESON: Let me recap. I apologize for those that were in, hearing this a second time. I focused on two issues, and we’ve touched on both of them during the questions so far. The first was the issue of wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate being misrepresented as wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate. And through a series of follow-up testing which I just addressed in a follow-up question, our labs determined that in fact the wheat gluten and the rice protein concentrate contained wheat flour, and that wheat flour was contaminated with melamine and melamine related compounds. I want to emphasize that the material that was tested for this that we found to be the wheat flour was the same samples, the same materials that have been tested positive for melamine. It does not represent new batches from different companies, different countries with yet another problem. It is the same melamine-contaminated material which we have just taken to a next level of testing and analysis. So not only does it have melamine in it which it shouldn’t, but it’s also mislabeled in that it’s labeled as wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate, but is in fact wheat flour.

So I want to emphasize that even though we’ve been talking about gluten all down the line here, and I realize this is just a perfect storm for total confusion, but what we have been calling “gluten” and everything that’s applied to our statements about gluten, we’ve now determined that even though it was labeled as “gluten,” we all thought it was gluten, it was used as gluten, it wasn’t. It was mislabeled and was wheat flour.

So that was essentially my point there, and again to emphasize this wheat flour material came from the same two companies in China that we’ve been discussing ever since the beginning of this. It doesn’t impact the human side of this. We do not believe any of these ingredients have gone directly into the human food chain. None of that has changed. Again just to summarize, we’re talking about the wheat gluten and the rice protein concentrate.

REPORTER: So if I may follow up on that then –

DR. ACHESON: Let me just finish my second point?

REPORTER: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

DR. ACHESON: And then we can come back to your question. The second thing I covered was the fact that we have discovered melamine in fishmeal. This is the situation in which again through tracebacks we determined that some of the product from the companies in China had been imported directly into Canada and the Canadians had used that product to manufacture fishmeal that was then imported into the United States and sent to a number of aquaculture and other fishing industry establishments in the United States. We’re working with the Canadian authorities on this. They are well-aware of what’s going on.

At this point, based on the risk assessment and the levels we know of in the fishmeal, as with the hogs and the poultry, we do not believe this poses any significant human health threat. This is a new finding, it’s a very active part of the investigation, and our investigators are getting out to the establishments where we know this was received. And we’ll be doing some analysis, getting some more samples, and determining the status of the fish that may have been fed this.

But I want to emphasize at this point based on the risk assessment, even if these fish had been fed this fishmeal we believe the risk to humans is low. So those are the two points I summarized, so now I can go to your questions. Thank you for waiting.

REPORTER: Okay, thanks very much for that. I’m going to change my question quickly then. What got done to the fishmeal in Canada that changed? You said it was imported as fishmeal and then exported from Canada to the U.S. as fishmeal. Did something get done to it in Canada? And how many fish do you think were fed this stuff?

DR. ACHESON: I’m sorry if I said that I didn’t mean that, but it was imported into Canada as wheat gluten.

REPORTER: Okay, all right.

DR. ACHESON: The contaminated wheat gluten went into Canada, just like it did into the U.S. We used it to make pet food, they used it to make fishmeal. You with me?

REPORTER: Yep. And how many fish ate it?

DR. ACHESON: Don’t know that part of the investigation. We do have a list of potential recipients of this fishmeal, and our investigators are getting out to those establishments as we speak to answer that very question.

REPORTER: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Karen Roebuck.

REPORTER: Hi. This is Karen Roebuck with the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Did you just call on me? I’m having trouble hearing.

MODERATOR: Yes, we did, Karen. You’re on.

REPORTER: Okay. Thanks for taking my call. While it’s not expected that people would get sick in the short term from eating the contaminated food, are the various federal agencies who studied his ruling out the possibility of long-term health effects from consuming the compounds over time since kidney damage is cumulative? And also, health effects aside, Dr. Petersen had said last week that the pigs that had eaten the adulterated food legally could not be put into the market because they knew they ate the adulterated food. Yet now it seems those, even though you know they ate the adulterated food and the chickens ate the adulterated food, they are going into the market. Is that, so my question is, how would that be legal?

MODERATOR: The first part of the question sounds like it may be Dr. Acheson, the second part Dr. Petersen.

DR. ACHESON: Your question on the first part which was addressing the long-term exposure consequences, well first of all we don’t know for a fact there’s been long-term exposure. We don’t even know for a fact yet that melamine has gone into the human food supply other than via hogs and poultry at extremely low levels. My best answer to your question on the long-term health effects is as I said before, we are working with CDC, looking for any shifts in trends. At this point we can’t rule it out.

I think this may become more apparent as further work around this evolves because obviously one of the questions is feeding studies of these kinds of levels to animals under research conditions to answer those very questions. So at this point I can’t specifically rule anything in or anything out other than to say there’s absolutely no evidence of just that happening. I’ll turn the second part over to Dr. Petersen.

DR. PETERSEN: Okay, thank you. Last week when we first started discussing some of this contaminated feed had been fed to the swine, the initial discussion was to swine, we had very little information. In fact that was about all the information we had that some level of contaminated feed had been fed to swine, and so based on that limited information we took what was with us the most aggressive approach for protecting public health, which was for us not to apply the mark of inspection to any of those animals. Subsequently there has been additional information, much of it quite significant, that’s come along. We’ve learned a little bit more about the low amount of melamine that was in the pet food and then the low amount of pet food that’s made it’s way into the animal feed, and that the exposure, if anything, to the animals was brief, and that we have no reason to believe there’s any concentration of the melamine in the actual meat of the animal.

So we’ve learned a lot there, and then over the weekend much of our initial scientific judgment was further clarified through the risk assessment which basically showed that even if you take the most extreme position on exposure, the risk was just 2,500 times or so below any known possible risk.

So we started a week or so ago with limited information and at the time I still believe the appropriate decision was for us not to apply the mark of inspection. But now, given all that information and given that we have specific farms where the feed tested negative, that now FSIS is in a position to apply the mark, of inspection to those animals. And then there’s this other group of animals where we are still missing some information, either the feed test was positive or there’s no feed available to test. So we’re still taking a precautionary approach to those until other facts come along. So that’s, I realize it looks like a shifting position, but it’s shifted as facts have been put on the table. And whenever those facts have put us in a position to make sure the public was well-served, that’s what we’ve done.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’d like to just take a moment and go back to this issue of wheat flour, and explain the significance of our findings that we have in fact wheat flour not wheat gluten or rice protein concentrate. I’ll ask Dr. Acheson to speak to that.

DR. ACHESON: Yes, let me try to just make sure that everybody understands some of the background for this because it’s complicated, and I want to just point out that wheat gluten is a component of wheat flour. So if you start with wheat flour and you can essentially go through a process in which you wash the starch away, thereby leaving the wheat gluten. The wheat gluten is the protein part. That’s the piece when you want high wheat protein, it’s the wheat gluten that you end up with and the starch is just washed out.

So the wheat gluten is a component of overall wheat flour. Now this is the point at which we become speculative, but it may throw some light on to how does this all fit together. It’s certainly a simpler process in which the manufacturer would take wheat flour or whole wheat, simply grind it up, thereby it would still have some wheat gluten in it at a low level but it wouldn’t be concentrated because the starch is still there. So its total protein content would appear to be low. If you then add melamine to that, what you’re effectively doing is, you’re adding a source of nitrogen to it. When you do that, if your measurements of protein is actually measuring nitrogen, what you’ve got is a wheat based product that appears to have high protein because the nitrogen is high due to the addition of the melamine. So there is a plausible hypothesis as to why this would be done, and rather than taking the trouble to extract the wheat gluten and wash away the starch, you simply grind up the wheat, put it all together, and then artificially create the appearance of it being high in protein by adding a high nitrogen-containing compound such as melamine. I hope that explanation hasn’t muddied the waters further and obviously we can take questions if it has, but that may help explain what’s going on here.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Dr. Acheson. Next question, please?

OPERATOR: (unclear) you may ask your question and state your company name.

REPORTER: Sure. I’m with Reuters. I wanted to know if Dr. Petersen could just go through the numbers real quick as far as there were 6,000 hogs and then can you tell me how many chickens we’re still dealing with? Are we talking about the chickens in Indiana, and has anything come of the investigation in the Missouri plant?

DR. PETERSEN: Okay, we mentioned last Friday I believe, and of course we are on the cusp of the information from the risk assessment last Friday, and so we’d asked that approximately 20 million young chickens, broilers, be voluntarily held until we had a chance over the weekend to assess that risk assessment. So those were held. And then with yesterday’s announcement, most of those, at least half, approximately 10 million, have begun to move into slaughter channels. So those were ones associated with a negative feed test, so they met the provisions we laid out in yesterday’s announcement with FDA.

Then the other ones on poultry that you mentioned in Indiana are still approximately 100,000, perhaps less, of the breeder birds that are still being voluntarily, they are on hold and I don’t recall if it’s voluntary or not, at those facilities, and because they, we don’t quite have a negative test on those at this point. So those would be subject to the other information I mentioned that we’re working through this week. Otherwise, the rest of the numbers are what we’ve previously mentioned.

REPORTER: So the other, those I think 30 broiler farms and then 8 breeder farms in Indiana, so the other like 3 million birds there, they’ve been good to go? And then what about the other 10 million birds of the 20 million from Friday, the 10 million that have begun –

DR. PETERSEN: Could you repeat just the last part of that?

REPORTER: Sure. The first part was the other 3 million birds in Indiana, and then you were also talking about the 20 million birds that was announced Friday, 10 million had begun to move because they tested negative. What about the other 10 million, and the hogs?

DR. PETERSEN: Okay. The other 10 million are eligible to move; they are just, because they got the information yesterday they got to queue them up to the appropriate slaughter facilities. The 3 million you mentioned was really I think the hard number there was 2.7 million. That goes back a week or so ago which were birds in Indiana from the roughly 30 farms I believe that had already made their way into commerce. Those were ones that were slaughtered back in sometime in March we believe. Then there’s one other piece of information about animals on hold. There are some animals at several farms on hold in the state of Illinois, and looks like approximately 3 facilities. Those number of swine on hold is approximately 50,000, and those animals we don’t have a negative test, and so they are subject to the other provisions that we announced yesterday, information from the animal risk assessment or other investigatory findings. And so those, that’s kind of a new piece of animals that are on hold subject to what we had yesterday, so that’s pretty much what we have in total. The broilers are the ones that are really moving to market today.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Daniel Rosnick you may ask your question and give your company name.

REPORTER: Yes. I’m with CNN. Thanks very much for taking my call. Quick question, do you know how the wheat flour – how do you know the wheat flour in the fishmeal was contaminated? Are there samples available for testing of that?

DR. ACHESON: Yes, we tested the fishmeal and it was positive.

REPORTER: Okay, and follow-up question, now that the risk assessment for melamine in feed for livestock is low, does that mean that you will then allow the pet food companies to sell all their recalled food to livestock companies as long as it’s used in a small amount?

DR. ACHESON: I would ask Dr. Sundlof or David Elder to address that, of FDA.

DR. STEPHEN SUNDLOF: This is Steve Sundlof. And the answer is no,–that we consider any of the tests positive to be adulterated and could not be used to further process into feed.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Heather Harland, you may ask your question and state your affiliation.

REPORTER: Hi. This is Heather Harland with NHK-Japan. Thank you for taking my question. How long will the FDA investigators stay in China? When are they coming back?

DR. ACHESON: The current schedule has them coming back to the United States early next week.

REPORTER: Do you know which day?

DR. ACHESON: No.

REPORTER: Okay.

MODERATOR: Anything else, Heather?

REPORTER: No. That’s it.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Abigail Goldman, please state your name and your affiliation, please?

REPORTER: Hi. Abigail Goldman, Los Angeles Times. I have a couple questions. First of all, you’ve said you don’t know how many fish. Can you tell us how many fish farms or aquaculture establishments, also what kind of fish? And then as regards the wheat flour, regardless of what the label said, doesn’t that alert you that wheat flour has been adulterated and that all wheat flour should be tested? I understand that what you’re testing now is mislabeled, but that tells you there’s a problem with that broader product. Thank you.

DR. ACHESON: With regard to your first question, we do have a preliminary list of places where we’re following up and we’re trying to confirm that. That’s part of the validation investigation process, so at this point we don’t have a definitive list of numbers and how many names that I can share with you. With regard to wheat flour, again it was not, even though the wheat flour contained melamine it came into the United States labeled as wheat gluten or rice protein concentrate. At this stage we don’t have direct indications of product coming into the United States labeled as wheat flour as anything other than wheat flour. We are certainly talking to our field force about extending the assignment that we have to look at some wheat flour, to test it, to begin to go down that avenue, but at this stage it was, we have no reason to believe wheat flour being imported as wheat flour is problematic.

REPORTER: The kinds of fish that these aquaculture establishments produce?

DR. ACHESON: We’ll know that better when we visit them, and that’s the kind of information that we obtain when we go and talk to them.

REPORTER: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question.

REPORTER: Andrew Bridges, you may state your name and company, please.

REPORTER: You stated my name. Associated Press. Who exported the wheat gluten or purported wheat gluten to the Canadians, and why are you learning this only now? And then also, are you looking at imports of fishmeal from China or other sources, Chile for example, as well as poultry that may have fed meal within China that potentially could have been contaminated? So three questions I got.

DR. ACHESON: Well, I’m not sure I caught all three of them, but let me try. The first one, it came from the Chinese firms that we’ve previously had concern about.

REPORTER: But who handled it in the interim then here in the United States?

DR. ACHESON: Who handled it?

REPORTER: Um-hum. Who imported it, and then who re-exported it?

DR. ACHESON: Well, it came directly from, I think it came through ChemNutra.

VOICE: Brokered through ChemNutra.

DR. ACHESON: Right. It was brokered through ChemNutra directly to Canada. The wheat gluten never came to the United States. It went directly to Canada, used by the Canadian company that manufactured the fishmeal. It was only when we started to get into the depth of the records from ChemNutra and started to look outside of the United States piece that this came to light, and then it was a question of, okay, well it went to this Canadian company, so what did they do with it? And then that led to the discovery that it was turned into fishmeal, and some of that fishmeal then came back into the United States.

REPORTER: Does it disturb you that ChemNutra didn’t disclose this, that they weren’t more upfront, that they’d actually sold also or brokered at least wheat gluten to human food or to companies that make meal that goes into food products beyond just the pet food company they supplied?

DR. ACHESON: I would have to talk to our investigators as to the questions that they specifically asked of ChemNutra. I’m not aware that ChemNutra were withholding information from us deliberately. So I don’t think this – this was simply as our investigators were pursuing this to the next level, because initially we were concerned about product coming directly into the United States. That’s what it started out. And that’s typical with any investigation, outbreak, traceback, that’s the whole point of it. One thing leads to another, leads to another, leads to another, and like the issues we’ve dealt with before you are seeing outbreak investigations. You are seeing a food-related incident unfold. So it’s going to change with time, and it’s always easy with a retrospect-scope to say, well why didn’t you ask that question two weeks ago, why didn’t you know that three months ago, and I wish we had. But that’s the process of discovery.

REPORTER: Okay, I’m sorry, follow-up. Just are you looking at fishmeal imports now from China as well as say poultry imports from China that may have been fed, from birds that may have been fed contaminated feed?

DR. ACHESON: We’re looking at variety of animal feed coming in from China. Specifically fishmeal, I would ask whether Michael Rogers or David Elder have any specifics on that. If not, we could get them to you.

DR. MICHAEL ROGERS: We’re certainly taking a risk-based approach to looking at, currently we certainly have in place now the country-wide import alert that’s focused on all vegetable protein products from China, a domestic sampling assignment, certainly at the border as well as (unclear). But we’re going to be using the risk-based approach to identify what other products from China and even possibly transshipped to other countries that we should be focused on.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you, Andrew. Next question.

OPERATOR: Julie Schmitt, you may ask your question and state your affiliation, please.

REPORTER: Thanks. Julie Schmitt with USA Today. For Dr. Acheson, would it be reasonable to assume that some company along the supply chain would have discovered before now that the product wasn’t a protein concentrate at all but a wheat flour, or not? Because they only checked for protein levels.

DR. ACHESON: Well, that’s an interesting question, and I think when a company typically gets a product in they will do that quality control of that product. Different companies will have different degrees of quality control. Does it meet the standards of what their standard is? If it doesn’t, they will typically reject it. They are not going to ask questions, well why doesn’t it work, what’s the problem with it? They will just simply say, this shipment doesn’t meet our standards, doesn’t do for us what we need it to do, and reject it.

They don’t necessarily have an obligation just to tell anybody about that. That’s just an internal decision, so I can’t rule out the possibility that the companies got this stuff in. It didn’t perform as wheat gluten, and therefore they rejected it.

MODERATOR: Anything else?

REPORTER: So explain that last part again? I mean, the companies all along have been saying they used the wheat gluten and the rice protein concentrate.

DR. ACHESON: Yes, they did, because my understanding of that is that they didn’t know it wasn’t wheat gluten. They assumed it was wheat gluten. The pet –

REPORTER: With an average amount of due diligence, should they have discovered that?

DR. ACHESON: That’s up to their quality control in the context of their manufacturing processes. So we’re talking initially about the pet food manufacturers. I don’t know what level of quality control they go through to ensure that when they receive something labeled as wheat gluten they ensure that it is wheat gluten.

REPORTER: Okay. And then finally it’s somewhat easier to see how the wheat flour is one step on the process to wheat gluten, so you’re saying the rice protein concentrate was not a rice-based product at all?

DR. ACHESON: That’s my understanding, yes.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Jane Zang, you may ask your question and state your affiliation.

REPORTER: Hi. I’m with the Wall Street Journal. Thanks for taking my call. I was just wondering, is FDA or USDA or other agencies, are you guys thinking about some broad changes in regulation of animal feed since it seems like there is a pattern here you know – hogs, chickens, fish. And are you looking at other animal feed too, or –

MODERATOR: Dr. Sundlof is going to take that question.

DR. SUNDLOF: Yes. We have been for the last couple years working on a more comprehensive animal feed safety system. And we’ve been holding a number of public meetings, and there will be another public meeting this month, I believe it’s either May 21 or May 22, that really addresses a lot of these questions about how can you have a better overall safety system for your feed.

Previously our feed safety programs have been targeted at specific issues such as BSE or mad cow disease or salmonella program, or a medicated feed program in which feed mills actually mixed drugs into the feeds and they have to do this under good manufacturing practice standards. But we have not had really an overall, comprehensive program that looks at safety from a broader perspective such that it would catch problems like we’ve seen with the melamine. So that is a work in progress.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question?

OPERATOR: Deborah Pettet (sp), you may ask your question and state your affiliation?

REPORTER: Deborah Pettet. Hello?

MODERATOR: Deborah, who are you with?

REPORTER: I’m with NBC. Actually I’m going to pass because my question has already been asked.

MODERATOR: Okay, thanks. Next question.

OPERATOR: John Rockoff you may ask your question and state your affiliation?

REPORTER: Hi, I’m with the Baltimore Sun. So if we can just go back for a second to why this may be wheat flour. You talked about how it was, the production process was simpler. Is this also, is it also cheaper? Is this part of sort of disguising a cheaper product to something more expensive?

DR. ACHESON: One would assume that if it’s simple, it’s cheaper. But I don’t have a specific economic analysis of that. And I certainly can’t speak of the economic advantages or disadvantages of one over the other. I want to emphasize that it’s only the positive samples that we have found, the melamine-positive samples that we have found to be wheat flour. This does not suggest that every sample of wheat gluten and every ingredient with wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate coming into the U.S. is wheat flour. We have no evidence of that. It was a further follow-up of the melamine-positive sample. I want to make sure that you all understand that.

REPORTER: If I could just have a follow-up, what do these fish farms, these aquaculture, what are they doing? Do you have any idea? Are they breeding fish for what purpose?

DR. ACHESON: Typically they are for two purposes. One is to breed fish to go directly into commerce as fish for human consumption. And the other is for stocks to put in reservoirs and lakes and streams.

REPORTER: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Holly, we have time for one more question.

OPERATOR: Okay. Lynn Terry, you may ask your question and state your affiliation.

REPORTER: The Oregonian. Several of my questions have been answered but I still have a few others. The state, could you possibly give the state that the farms are in, the fish farms? I’m curious about the percentage of – do they, are they fed a diet of 100 percent of this fishmeal? And do we have any sense of how long these two companies have been exporting to North America?

DR. ACHESON: With regard to your first question, at this stage I’m not able to disclose which states are under investigation. As I said, that’s active, and as of right at this point in time, I can’t discuss that further. To your second question as to how long these companies have been importing products into the United States, I know it goes back to 2006. I will ask Michael Rogers or David Elder if they have any information beyond that.

MR. DAVID ELDER: Dr. Acheson has stated the investigation is ongoing, we will be confirming the details as we progress with the investigation. But at this point in time we don’t have any information to extend it any further back.

REPORTER: Can I ask you something though? Are you working with the Canadians at all, because if they were importing to the United States, they were probably exporting to Canada as well.

DR. ACHESON: Absolutely. We’re working very closely with the Canadians on this.

REPORTER: And do you know what percentage the fishmeal is of the diet? Is it 100 percent? Are these fish fed 100 percent fishmeal?

DR. ACHESON: Dr. Sundlof?

DR. SUNDLOF: No. Fishmeal would be a component of the total feed, and I can’t tell you exactly what proportion of that it is, but it’s probably less than half.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, at this time I’d like to close this briefing and thank you for your participation. I hope you found it helpful, and thank you to our FDA speakers and our colleagues Dr. Kenneth Petersen with USDA and Ms. Vera Adams with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, for their participation today.

If you have follow-up questions, please don’t hesitate to call each of our respective agencies. And we will plan to do another briefing on tentatively scheduled on Thursday, time yet to be determined, and if we need to get you before that we certainly will but we’ll keep you updated as more information becomes available.

Thanks again, and have a pleasant afternoon. The replay will be available in about one hour. Thank you very much. Good evening. Bye bye.