Melamine From U.S. Put in Feed
By ANDREW MARTIN
Published: May 31, 2007
Ever since pet food contaminated with an industrial
chemical was traced to shipments of wheat flour from
China, American officials have concentrated on
cracking down on imports.
It turns out the problem was closer to home, too.
Yesterday, federal officials announced that a
manufacturing plant in Ohio was using the same
banned substance, melamine, to make binding agents
that ended up in feed for farmed fish, shrimp and
The problem surfaced after a distributor, concerned
about what was in its feed binders after the reports
from China, sent the product to a private laboratory
The melamine was used by Tembec BTLSR, a Canadian
forest products company with a small chemical plant
in Toledo, to make binding agents that keep pellets
of animal feed together, said Dr. David Acheson,
assistant commissioner for food protection at the
Food and Drug Administration.
Melamine is not permitted in food or pet food
products. In the last few months, pet food
contaminated with melamine, all traced back to
China, sickened or killed thousands of pets in the
Dr. Acheson said the levels of melamine and
melamine-related compounds in Tembec’s products were
far lower than that found in wheat flour from China
that ended up killing the pets. Consequently, the
authorities said that they thought the contamination
did not appear to pose a risk to human health.
Nevertheless, the F.D.A. issued a voluntary recall
of finished feed made with two binding agents:
Aquabond and Aqua-Tec II, which are made by Tembec
and used in fish and shrimp feed. A third product,
Xtra-Bond, which is made by a Colorado firm called
Uniscope using Tembec ingredients, was not recalled
because the levels of melamine were low.
Uniscope is the distributor of all three products.
Aquabond and Aqua-Tec II are sold mostly overseas;
Xtra-Bond is sold domestically.
Agency officials are alerting the foreign
governments that received the products, Dr. Acheson
The investigation began on May 18 when Uniscope
alerted the agency that it had discovered melamine
in the testing. Dr. Acheson said that the
investigation was in its early stages and that some
questions remained unanswered, like how long Tembec
had used melamine in its products and the extent of
“What Tembec knew, didn’t know, what their
activities were, is part of the investigation,” Dr.
Acheson said, at a news conference. Earlier, he
said, “It’s hard to believe that a manufacturer of
pet food would not know about this.”
Federal officials would not say whether they would
pursue criminal charges in the Tembec case. They
said that they had already been contacting domestic
manufacturers to make sure they were aware of the
sources of their ingredients.
John Valley, Tembec’s executive vice president for
business development and corporate affairs, said his
company thought that Uniscope was shipping the
binders overseas for use as shrimp feed. Once the
F.D.A. told it that the binders were being used
domestically, Tembec stopped making them from
melamine, Mr. Valley said.
Tembec makes resins and certain chemicals for
industrial uses, including melamine. Mr. Valley said
Uniscope was the only customer that used its
products for animal feed.
Asked why it was all right to use melamine in feed
for shrimp overseas but not in the United States, he
said: “Melamine has just really had a focus that’s
come upon it. A lot of companies and agencies are
reviewing certain applications of melamine.”
The pet food scandal has led to increased scrutiny
of all food imports, particularly those from China,
and threatened trade relations. Some members of
Congress have demanded tougher inspections of food
imports from China.
“This recent incident goes to show that we
apparently have some bad actors out there,” said
Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food
Safety at the University of Georgia. “It can happen
in the United States.”
But Mr. Doyle pointed out that the incidence of food
illness remains relatively rare in the United
States. The problem with the Tembec binders surfaced
after Uniscope, a company based in Johnstown, Colo.,
decided to test the binders.
“They just asked themselves, ‘I wonder what’s in
this stuff? I wonder if we have anything in here
that shouldn’t be in here?’ ” said Charlie Russell,
a company spokesman. “So they sent some samples to a
Tembec has been a supplier to Uniscope since January
2004, Mr. Russell said. Employees at Uniscope, which
was founded in 1975 and is family owned, thought
that they were buying a resin that was fit for
animal consumption, Mr. Russell said.
Uniscope sells the binders to feed manufacturers
that mix them with grain and other ingredients to
make food pellets for livestock and fish, he said.
The binders are sold both domestically and abroad,
Mr. Russell said.
According to filings with the Securities and
Exchange Commission, Tembec acquired BTLSR Toledo, a
custom manufacturer of spray-dry resins, for $8.5
million in 2003.