By Lisa Wade McCormick
April 16, 2007
The United States company that imported the tainted wheat gluten -- ChemNutra of Las Vegas, Nevada -- says it was victimized by its Chinese supplier, XuZhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd.
In a letter posted on the company's Web site, CEO Steve Miller also said he is "appalled" that Menu Foods took so long to recall the contaminated pet food.
"The possibility that any animal fell ill or died because of an ingredient we may have supplied to Menu Foods saddens us and also angers us because it means that ChemNutra has been victimized as well, by our own supplier," Miller wrote, adding his company will no longer do business with XuZhou Anying.
"We are concerned that we may have been the victim of deliberate and mercenary contamination for the purpose of making the wheat gluten we purchased appear to have a higher protein content than it did, because melamine causes a false high result on protein tests," Miller said.
Miller was referring to allegations that the melamine could have intentionally been added to the wheat gluten -- a theory raised earlier this month by the director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.
"Somebody may have added melamine to the wheat gluten in order to increase what appears to be the protein level," the FDA's Stephen Sundlof said. "Wheat gluten is a high-protein substance and by trying to artificially inflate the protein level, it could command a higher price. But that's just one theory at this point."
Miller said his company had never heard of melamine before this recall.
"We had no idea that melamine was an issue until being notified by the FDA on March 29," he wrote on the company's Web site. "It's simply not a chemical even on the radar screen for food ingredient suppliers."
Miller also said his company is "distressed" with Menu Foods' handling of the pet food recall.
"We are appalled and distressed that Menu Foods took so long to recall its products, although it clearly suspected there was a problem for weeks prior to the first recall," he wrote. "And it wasn't until eight days before they issued their first recall that Menu Foods told us that wheat gluten was one of many ingredients it was investigating."
Questions Raised about ChemNutra
Questions, however, have surfaced in recent weeks about ChemNutra and its ties to China. The Canadian investigative newspaper, Canada Free Press, describes the company's Chinese headquarters as a "rundown warehouse in rural China."
That warehouse, the paper adds, is located within 50 miles of XuZhou Anying, the company blamed for supplying the tainted wheat gluten.
The Las Vegas Review Journal says ChemNutra's Las Vegas office -- at Durango and Charleston Streets -- is "very small ... without even a sign on the door."
ChemNutra touts its ties to China, stating it "imports high-quality nutritional and pharmaceutical chemicals from China to the US. We purchase our inventory from quality-assured manufacturers in China; most of whom we have strong relationships over the past twelve years."
The company's president, Sally Miller, also has strong ties to China.
ChemNutra's Web site states she has "more than 12 years experience in China as QA Manager and Purchasing Manager ... and was responsible for purchasing large quantities of nutritional and food ingredients in China for export worldwide."
The Web site also states Sally Miller has an MBA -- and an Engineering degree -- in Food Engineering, but doesn't state where she earned those degrees. Canada Free Press learned she "earned an MBA from City University in Seattle, as well as (an) Engineering degree in Food Chemical Engineering at Hanzhou Institute of Commerce in Hanzhou, China."
Puerto Rico Outbreak
The pet food crisis -- blamed for the deaths and illnesses of thousands of dogs and cats in the United States -- has spread to Puerto Rico.
Two dogs on that Caribbean island died of kidney failure last week after eating melamine-tainted Ol'Roy dog biscuits, according to Puerto Rico's Veterinary Medical Association.
The dogs -- both three-year-old miniature schnauzers -- are the first pets in Puerto Rico to die from the contaminated pet food products, said Dr. Victor Callazo, president Puerto Rico's Veterinary Medical Association. His association ran tests that confirmed the wheat gluten in the dog biscuits contained melamine, a chemical commonly used in plastics.
Dr. Callazo said the tainted dog biscuits were purchased at Amigo, a supermarket chain owned by the Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Stores.
The Food and Drug Administration has confirmed 16 deaths from the tainted pet food, but other organizations say the real number is in the thousands.
Recall Announced One Month Ago
It was one month ago that Menu Foods of Canada announced its massive recall of pet food, one of the largest in history. Nearly 100 brands of pet food and treats -- and more than 60 million containers -- are included in the recall.
The FDA says the pet food and products were made with melamine-tainted wheat gluten imported from China.
Outraged Pet Owners
Meanwhile, ConsumerAffairs.com continues to hear from grieving and worried pet owners. Many wonder why Iams has not recalled its dry food.
They're pet owners like Judith E. of Hamilton, MA.
"My perfectly healthy Cairn terrier died of acute renal failure due to poisoning," she says. "She was always by my side and ate only Iams dry dog food. There are several complaints about this food. We want this food recalled ASAP."
A California pet owner also blames her dog's recent death on Iams dry food.
"My dog was 15, but was very active and spunky," says Angela of Alamo, California. "He was fed Iams dry dog food and became very ill, very quickly. I did not feed him the wet dog food, but he still was lethargic, lost weight rapidly, was vomiting, urinating in the house, and could not walkby the time I got him to the vet he had sores in his mouth and was in acute renal failure."
Angela says she had to put her beloved dog to sleep.
"It was horrible. I am still so upset and confused and saddened by his loss. I don't understand what happenedthis renal failure took him by surprise and was so devastating. He could not even lift his head when he was being taken to the vet."
P&G Pet Care, the manufacturer of Iams, says on its Web site that none of its dry pet foods are included in the recall. The company also said all the dry and wet pet foods it continues to sell do not contain wheat gluten from any supplier.
Menu Foods Not Responding To Calls
Another pet owner says Menu Foods has not responded to the repeated messages she's left about her dog's death. Jerri L. of Goodyear, Arizona, told ConsumerAffairs.com that she's called the company's pet food recall hotline five times since March.
But no one has returned any of her messages.
"I understand that they may be swamped with calls, but after all the messages I've left, I would hope that someone would call," she says. "As of this date (April 16, 2007), I haven't heard a word from anyone. I'm extremely disappointed in their handling of this situation."
Jerri says her 13-year-old Sheltie, Sandy Boy, became ill and suddenly died after eating Nutra Max, one of the foods included in the recall. Sandy Boy, she says, was in perfect health before she fed him that brand of wet food.
"And then boom, suddenly he was gone," Jerri says, adding Sandy Boy died last Memorial Day, but had symptoms that mirror those in dogs and cats who have become sick or died after eating Menu's tainted food. "Three days after he started eating that food, he was in complete kidney failure. We had to make the difficult choice to put him down."
She adds: "It kind of makes me sick to think that I killed my dog. I could barely live with the decision to put him down and now to think that I may have killed him inadvertently."
Jerri is convinced Menu Foods knew its products were contaminated months before its March 16, 2007, recall.
"I know how large corporations work and how they hide problems with products until they're forced to go public," she says. "I want the truth. I think they knew about this thing a long time before it was made public. It's too coincidental that my dog passed away from the same symptoms that dogs are having now. We had just switched dog foods and none of my other dogs (that didn't eat Nutra Max) got sick."
Jerri is also outraged that Menu Food's hasn't responded to her repeated calls.
"One lady hung up on me when I questioned her about why I was not getting any calls back.
"Menu Foods needs to train its people how to handle calls like this," she adds. "These are from people with sick pets or people who've lost a pet. I'm just heartsick over this whole thing."
Menu Foods spokeswoman Sarah Tuite says the company has hired an outside firm to respond pet owners calls. The company's hotline, she says, has received more than 300,000 calls since it announced its massive recall.
"We're asking people to be patient," Tuite told us earlier this month. "We've engaged a third-party that will be calling everyone back."
Tuite also denied Jerri's suggestion that Menu Foods knew its products were tainted months ago.
"We are completely confident the problem is related to an ingredient (wheat gluten) that was introduced by a new supplier ... and we've stopped using that supplier."