By Dan Shapley
Food producers, importers and the FDA had it all wrong. The tainted wheat gluten blamed for killing as many as 5,000 pets and taining the feed of thousands of hogs, chickens and fish wasn't even wheat gluten. It was flour. The Chinese company selling the product allegedly added melamine - an ingredient in plastics that is high in nitrogen - to its wheat flour to give it the appearance of having high protein content. It labeled it as wheat gluten. It was shipped to the United States, where it was distributed to pet food and animal feed manufacturers. It was fed to cats and dogs, which died perhaps by the thousands. It was fed to thousands of hogs, which were quarantined and later slaughtered so they wouldn't be sold as food. It was fed to thousands of chickens, many of which were processed and sold in grocery stores. It was also - the FDA said yesterday - sold to fish farms and fed to fish. Critics - and there are many - say the latest revelation screams yet again that the food safety system is unable to ensure the safety of an increasingly complex and international food system.