By Julie Schmit and Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
The industrial chemical melamine has been found in more pet food, and suspicion is falling on a second pet-food ingredient imported from China as the source of the contamination.
Natural Balance Pet Foods said Tuesday it found melamine in samples of some of its food, which led to a recall. The company suspects melamine was in a rice protein concentrate used as an ingredient, said President Joey Herrick in an interview.
Melamine is the chief suspect related to the Menu Foods recall, first announced four weeks ago for more than 60 million cans and pouches of wet dog and cat food. The melamine in Menu's products was in wheat gluten imported from China and sold to Menu and several other pet-food makers, which also did recalls.
The rice protein concentrate was imported from China by San Francisco-based Wilbur-Ellis. Herrick says the concentrate, which is being tested, is suspected to have melamine, as it was the only new ingredient. Recalled Natural Balance products include Venison and Brown Rice canned and dry dog foods, dog treats and Venison and Green Pea dry cat food.
Wilbur-Ellis CEO John Thacher said his company sold the concentrate to five pet-food makers, but that most of it went to two firms. One of the primary companies was Diamond Pet Foods, which packs some of the Natural Balance product but doesn't use the concentrate in any Diamond-made foods, says Diamond spokesman Jim Fallon. The other major customer, which Thacher would not name, tested the rice protein and
found no melamine, Thacher says. Natural Balance's rice protein concentrate is mixed with venison meal, Thacher says.
Natural Balance has received about 10 reports of sick pets, mostly dogs, since Thursday, Herrick says. It started testing the foods Friday, when it also asked retailers to pull the products. As in the Menu recall, some of the pets developed kidney failure, Natural says.
Natural Balance was co-founded in 1989 by actor Dick Van Patten, according to the company's website.
The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that melamine is believed to have contaminated rice protein concentrate used to make a variety of Natural Balance Pet Foods products for both dogs and cats. It said Monday that Natural Balance had informed the agency of the issue. Thacher says it told the FDA on Sunday that it had detected melamine in some rice protein concentrate imported from China about a week ago. Wilbur-Ellis has ceased importing the ingredient from the Chinese firm, Binzhou Futian Biology Technology, Thacher says.
Along with Diamond, pet-food makers Nestlé Purina PetCare and Procter & Gamble said Tuesday that they don't use rice protein concentrate in their foods.
No other Natural Balance products include the ingredient, the company says.
Melamine is not allowed in human or pet food. It is an industrial chemical used in plastics worldwide and also sometimes as a fertilizer in Asia, the FDA says.
While melamine is not highly toxic, the FDA is investigating whether it, or something related to it, is responsible for pet deaths in the Menu recall.