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China denies exporting tainted wheat gluten

/ Source: The Associated Press

China has denied responsibility for several pet deaths in the United States which U.S. authorities blame on a batch of chemically contaminated wheat gluten from China, state media reported.

“China has nothing to do with the pet poisoning in the United States,” said a report in the official newspaper of China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, which monitors the export of food, animals and farm products.

The China Inspection and Quarantine Times said in a report on its Web site dated Tuesday that as of March 29, 2007 China had “never exported wheat or wheat gluten to ... the United States.”

This contradicted comments by two employees at the Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., this week who said the company had shipped wheat gluten to the United States.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has identified Xuzhou Anying as the supplier of the tainted gluten.

On Thursday, the Chinese company accused of selling chemical-tainted wheat gluten linked to the pet food deaths said that most of its sales were domestic, raising the possibility that people or animals in China might have been exposed to the chemical.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week blocked wheat gluten imports from the Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. in the eastern Chinese city of Xuzhou, saying they contained melamine, a chemical found in plastics and pesticides.

Anying produces and exports more than 10,000 tons of wheat gluten a year, according to its Web site, but only 873 tons were linked to tainted U.S. pet food, raising the possibility that more of the contaminated product could still be on the market in China, or abroad.

Li Cui, director of Anying’s foreign exports, told The Associated Press on Thursday the United States is the company’s only overseas market for wheat gluten, although it wasn’t clear if the company had more than one customer in the U.S.

Most of the company’s wheat gluten is sold to domestic Chinese buyers, Li said, refusing to say whether the allegedly contaminated batches were sold in China.

There has been no reaction among the Chinese public to the tainted wheat gluten, and Beijing authorities have not said whether they are investigating the matter.

An official at the Chinese Ministry of Health, who refused to give his name, said the case was not an issue for the ministry and directed questions to the Ministry of Agriculture. An official there, who also refused to give his name, told The Associated Press to stop calling.

Both ministries also did not respond to faxed questions on whether they had concerns about tainted gluten in China.

ChemNutra Inc., the Las Vegas-based company that imported the wheat gluten and shipped it to companies that make pet foods, said Tuesday that Xuzhou Anying had never reported the presence of melamine in the content analysis it provided.

Earlier this week, another official at the Chinese company said the gluten was not manufactured by Xuzhou Anying, but was bought from companies in neighboring provinces.

Melamine is used to make plastic kitchenware, glues, countertops, fabrics, fertilizers and flame retardants. It also is both a contaminant and byproduct of several pesticides, including cyromazine, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The FDA has confirmed about 15 pet deaths, and anecdotal reports suggest hundreds of cats and dogs may have died of kidney failure from the tainted food.

Nearly 100 brands of cat and dog food made with wheat gluten have been recalled.