WASHINGTON, April 23 (Reuters) - A second company likely imported rice protein from China that was contaminated with a chemical linked to a major pet food recall, two U.S. lawmakers said on Monday.
Rice protein tainted with the chemical melamine was used in pet foods from at least five manufacturers who obtained the protein from one supplier, U.S. officials have said. It also made its way into feed used at a California hog farm.
Now, another company is suspected of importing rice protein from China, Democratic Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Maria Cantwell of Washington said in a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"We have learned that in addition to Wilbur-Ellis, a second United States company imported a shipment of rice protein from China that is also likely to be contaminated with melamine," the senators wrote. "We request the FDA identify this second importer as well as those manufacturers to which it may have sold the contaminated product."
An aide to Durbin said the senators found out about the second importer from industry sources.
If confirmed, that could further expand a pet food recall that so far includes more than 100 brands. FDA officials have confirmed 16 deaths of cats and dogs from kidney failure and have received more than 15,000 reports of illnesses.
The senators’ letter came ahead of a congressional hearing on Tuesday to examine the pet food scare as well as the larger issue of human food safety before a U.S. House of Representatives committee.
FDA spokeswoman Cathy McDermott said so far the agency is only aware of one rice protein importer, Wilbur-Ellis Co., but the investigation is ongoing.
The agency has said the rice protein was supplied by China-based Binzhou Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd. but the company has denied involvement.
Last week, privately held Wilbur-Ellis said contaminated rice protein was distributed to several pet food makers. Three of them — Natural Balance Pet Foods, the Blue Buffalo Co. and Diamond Pet Foods — have pulled some of their products.
Wilbur-Ellis and the FDA declined to name the other two makers. Durbin and Cantwell called on the agency to make those two companies publicly known.
Melamine, used in plastics and fertilizer, was earlier found in wheat gluten used in pet foods. Menu Foods MEW_u.TO, Procter & Gamble Co. (PG.N), Colgate-Palmolive Co. (CL.N), Nestle SA NESN.VX and Del Monte Foods Co. DLM.N have all recalled pet products made with the gluten.