If there were any lingering doubts about the importance of hygienic feed practices and traceability of products, the continuing drama of contaminated pet food found in the United States certainly underscores the need.

What began as an issue limited to the pet food industry has now raised concerns over livestock feed and human health, underscoring the relevancy of feed hygiene practices and safe sourcing of ingredients in this age of global food and feed supplies.

Various toxic substances have been identified as the culprit behind the pet food recall going on in the US. The most probable is that melamine and melamine-related products in wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate were the offenders.

From pets to pork

And now the National Pork Board (NPB) and allied organizations in the US have to answer to concerns that the contaminated pet food has made its way into pig diets, putting human health at risk.

The NPB notes that on April 3 and April 14, Diamond Pet Foods, a pet food manufacturer in Lathrop, Calif., USA, delivered pet food to a hog farm in Ceres, Calif. The pet food is believed to have been included in a pet food recall initiated on April 16. On April 19, the California Department of Food and Agriculture quarantined the California farm. Laboratory testing revealed the presence of melamine in pig urine. The California Department of Food and Agriculture and the FDA have deemed the human health risk to be minimal, but concerns linger.

According to sources at the NPB, it's possible other livestock facilities might also be affected. Hog farms in California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, New York and Ohio are all part of an ongoing investigation by the FDA, according to NPB statements. The NPB points out that state authorities have taken the appropriate action, facilities have been quarantined to prevent any movement of animals and the FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) have prevented the distribution of pork originating from these farms until the risk to human health is determined. It also notes that a poultry farm in Missouri may have received tainted pet food as well.

Agency action

In a jointly issued news release April 26, officials from FSISA and FDA echoed statements by the NPB and indicated that state authorities had been notified that swine fed adulterated product would not be approved to enter the food supply while at the same time stating that they believe the likelihood of illness after eating pork from swine fed the adulterated product would be very low.

According to the statement, FDA determined that a shipment of rice protein imported from China was contaminated with melamine and melamine-related compounds. The product was imported during the week of 2007 April 2 and used in the production of pet food and a byproduct used to produce animal feed.

The contaminants in question include melamine and melamine-related compounds, including cyanuric acid, the combination of which is a potential source of concern in relation to human and animal health, according to agency officials.

According to the release, the purchased feed could involve approximately 6,000 hogs. Authorities are also in contact with a feed mill in Missouri that might have received adulterated feed, the release said.

Consumer response

What impact is this latest round of food safety concerns having on consumer confidence in food supply and demands on livestock practices, including animal feed? Certainly groups who make it their business to monitor such issues, as well as the general consumer population, are making their voices heard. In a web blog in early April, Reggie James, director for Consumers Union's www.NotInMyFood.org campaign, questions how the US can continue to rely on imported feed and food products.

In a post 6 April, even prior to the concerns over the pork industry involvement, he writes, "With the revelation that the Chinese company that supplied wheat gluten suspected of contaminating pet food may have shipped wheat gluten to the US for human consumption, too, it's clear that our pets are the canaries in the coal mine. Human food safety is also at risk."

Developing countries

Similar responses can be found from other groups, with many calling for fewer imports of feed and food products and more stringent inspections. But in addition to providing fuel for tougher regulations that could impact the feed industry, the latest round of safety concerns underscores another issue that could impact the feed business: how do more stringent food safety and hygenic feed standards in industrialized contries impact existing challenges for nations still modernizing their agricultural industries?

If we are going to build a healthy global feed industry, and at the same time recognize that food and feed safety standards are not going to be lowered, then we as a worldwide industry have to turn these situations into incentives, not roadblocks, for the modernization of export supply and regulatory systems and the adoption of safer and more sustainable production and processing practices in all countries. Not just in some areas, but all reaches of the globe.

Often the emphasis has been on ensuring all nations have a voice in influencing standards. But perhaps the challenges would be better met by lending strength to our capacities to effectively manage food safety and agricultural health risks.

This issue of Feed International brings you perspectives from leaders in the feed industry. The topic of consumer confidence in the food supply was a common theme.

As the feed industry continues to develop in Asia and other areas of the globe, it would seem that recent events underscore the need for continued worldwide attention to issues of hygienic feed production and a proactive stance from the feed industry to help ensure a positive tomorrow.