WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture here released the 20 million chickens that were quarantined last week after scientists from five federal agencies concluded there is a very low risk to human health from consuming meat from hogs and chickens known to have been fed animal feed supplemented with pet food scraps that contained melamine. As a result, consumers and retailers are going to suppliers for assurance.
“We approached our suppliers about it,” said a meat and seafood director at a mid-Atlantic chain.
“Our suppliers have sent us letters assuring of several things: that there is no melamine in their feed, that they don't import any feed from China or the Netherlands and that they are using none of that product in their feed.”
South Fallsburg, N.Y.-based Murray's Chickens sent out a release confirming to the public that it does not use imported feed or grains to feed its chickens, due to the number of concerns that were expressed from both retailers and consumers.
“I've never seen this much concern before, not with the mad cow disease, the avian flu or anything,” said Steve Gold, vice president of sales and marketing, Murray's Chickens, adding that he received calls from many stores that buy from Murray's, including ShopRite and Wegmans.
“It's interesting — a lot of the people want to hear it directly from us. They don't really want to hear what the USDA or the FDA say, they want to hear it directly from the manufacturer.”
Regardless of who consumers and retailers want to hear from, the USDA and the FDA are making efforts to keep the public informed in a timely manner with confirmed information, according to Keith Williams, USDA spokesman.
“We're finding in general that people are willing to listen to this; they want the information, and hopefully they're getting a perspective that allows them to make decisions and to understand that the scientists and experts are making decisions based on well-grounded research,” said Williams.
“The risk analysis announced from the scientists working on this gives people some assurance, especially if they were concerned about some of the hogs that might have been eaten [before there was awareness of melamine in the feed].”
The number of hogs and chickens affected represent a fraction of the 9 billion chickens and approximately 104 million hogs that are raised every year in the U.S.
The 20 million chickens were originally held because, although the feed tested negative, the FDA and the USDA wanted to determine the risk to humans because it was known that a small quantity of scraps was mixed into the feed. Melamine did not show up on the tests because the dilution factor was so high.
Now, should feed test negative for melamine on farms where contaminated feed is traced to, the USDA will allow those chickens to go on to inspection, as the very low risk to human health from consuming this meat has been confirmed.
Currently, about 100,000 chickens and 6,000 hogs whose feed tested positive for melamine are being held for an animal risk analysis, which will show how the animals biologically process the chemical and will help officials determine what to do with animals that have eaten feed that tests positive for melamine.