WSU food expert warns of future contamination problems

WSU food expert warns of future contamination problems
PULLMAN - Recent contamination of U.S. pet food was a warning to the nation's consumers. A Washington State University food expert says Americans can expect to face more of the same in the future.

Prof. Barbara Rasco works in the WSU Food Science and Human Nutrition Department. She has been studying food contamination for the past 12 years.

She said the recent scare has repercussions for humans and the economy and that much of the problem is originating in China.

"We've had lots of problems throughout the years with contaminated, misbranded, and adulterated food coming in from China and it impacts everybody all across the world: the good companies in China that are trying to make wholesome and good food, companies in the developing world that can't compete economically, and then companies, too, that are trying to get started in countries with emerging economies that can't get off the ground because cheap, poor quality Chinese products are dumped on their market," said Rasco. "So, it impacts everybody."

The ingredient tainting U.S. pet foods, chicken, and pig feed has now been found in wheat flour as well.

"What has happened here with the melamine contamination in wheat flour, is that a couple Chinese companies contaminated wheat flour with melamine, which is a compound that contains nitrogen," said Rasco. "By doing that, they were able to increase the measurable protein content of the feed ingredient and therefore get a better price for it. So, they were deliberately substituting an inferior, contaminated wheat flour product for a more expensive wheat gluten material."

Rasco said if it wasn't for the impact of cats and dogs dying, and the political interest involved, consumers on their own would not have made the discovery.

"Animals, particularly companion animals, in Europe, the United States, Canada, and South Africa have all died as a result of this incident," she said. "If it hadn't been for the fact that companion animals had died, we might not have figured this out as quickly as we did, simply because pets tend to be fed a single food and people know what they're feeding their pets."

Rasco said while the Chinese government claims to be addressing the problem, they are not doing enough. She said one solution is to impose trade sanctions against China if the practice continues.