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China to allow US pet food inquiry

BEIJING -- China yesterday gave US regulators permission to enter the country to investigate whether Chinese suppliers exported contaminated pet food ingredients to the United States this year, leading to one of the largest pet food recalls in American history.

Representatives of the US Food and Drug Administration had been blocked from entering China, despite growing evidence that the tainted pet food that killed at least 16 cats and dogs and sickened thousands of other animals in the United States originated with Chinese exporters of wheat gluten and other animal feed ingredients.

The FDA confirmed yesterday that it has now opened a criminal investigation into the scandal, but the agency did not name the target or say whether any US firms may have intentionally laced animal feed with banned ingredients. Today, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce is slated to hold hearings on the safety of the country's food supply.

On Thursday, the FDA expanded its pet food recall after it found more evidence that an industrial chemical called melamine had contaminated the supplies of additional pet food makers, including Royal Canin US and C.J. Foods.

The agency, which has recalled over 60 million packages of pet food, is also looking at investigating imports of rice protein from China. Regulators in California said this week that they had found melamine in rice protein animal feed that was fed to livestock, and the fear is that the chemical could have entered the human food supply chain through hogs.

Laboratory testing in California had detected melamine in urine from hogs at the American Hog Farm in Ceres, Calif. California regulators have alerted anyone who purchased pork from American Hog Farm from April 3 to April 18 to be cautious.

In its news release over the weekend, the FDA also identified a second Chinese company that had exported animal feed tainted with melamine to American pet food and animal feed suppliers.

The company, Binzhou Futian Biological Technology, declined to comment. Earlier this month, regulators said another Chinese company, the Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. in Xuzhou, had sold wheat gluten contaminated with melamine to suppliers of American pet food.

American regulators believe the Chinese firms may have intentionally added melamine to their feed ingredients to artificially bolster the protein count in order to meet requirements.