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TRANSCRIPT OF FDA/USDA MEDIA TELECONFERENCE PROVIDING AN UPDATE ON ADULTERATED FEED TO POULTRY AND HOGS
WASHINGTON, D.C.—MAY 1, 2007
MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome everyone to this briefing this afternoon. I'm Julie Zawisza, the Assistant Commissioner for Public Affairs. I have with me several FDA officials, and we have an official from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the line. Format for the call this afternoon is as follows. We'll hear from the FDA and from the USDA, and then we'll take your questions.
Our first speaker today is Dr. David Acheson, the Chief Medical Officer with FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Well, actually, that's what he was until this morning. Right, David? My apologies; he's now the Assistant Commissioner for Food Protection with the Food and Drug Administration. My apologies, and congratulations too. And we'll be hearing from Dr. Kenneth Petersen, the Assistant Administrator for Field Operations with the Food Safety and Inspection Service with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And we'll be hearing from Walter Batts at FDA's Office of International Programs.
With that I'd like to turn this over to Dr. Acheson.
DR. DAVID ACHESON: Thank you, Julie. This is David Acheson. What I want to do is just briefly go over some of the points that were in the two recent press releases that we put out, the first being on Saturday that related to hogs, and the more recent one yesterday that was related to poultry.
First of all, to deal with the hog issue, I want to emphasize that we still have no evidence of harm to humans associated with any of the processed products from the swine that were fed the contaminated feed. We believe the likelihood of illness from such exposure is extremely low. We also have no evidence of reports of harm to the swine themselves.
One of the reasons we believe that this effect is very low on humans is due to the dilution effect, insomuch that the hog feed is only made up to a small degree of the contaminated pet food. Further, the melamine is excreted from the hogs in their urine. It is not known to bioaccumulate in the animal. Then finally, even if it were in the muscle tissue to some low extent, pork is not consumed to a high degree in the human diet, unlike pets which may be eating the same pet food exclusively.
To further evaluate all of this in terms of the harm to humans and furthering our information about the level, FDA and USDA are working collaboratively to develop a series of new assays focused on being able to measure melamine and melamine-related compounds in muscle tissue such as that from hogs and from poultry. That will give us a better sense as to what the levels actually are.
However, based on our current knowledge of the amount in the feed to begin with, we do know these levels are going to be small.
That data will also help us better understand risk assessments and just basically further our understanding of the whole situation.
Second, I'd like to move on to the other press release. We did release another press release jointly yesterday with USDA that was related to poultry, and it was essentially in this situation, contaminated wheat gluten that was used as a portion of chickenfeed on some farms in Indiana. I should point out that it was rice protein concentrate that was the problem on the swine. With the poultry it was the contaminated wheat gluten, same situation as we'd seen with the pet food. It was the same pet food, a portion of which was used to make the hog food.
As I said to recap, some of the contaminated wheat gluten was used as a small portion of the poultry feed. We estimate, based on discussions with the farms and the feed mills, it was approximately 5 percent. At this time, investigators have found a number of broiler farms and breeder farms in that state, in Indiana, that we know have received the contaminated food in early February and that it was fed to the poultry. All of the food that was fed to broilers is believed to have been consumed. It's essentially been processed. It's out the door. The breeders who are still there are currently under a voluntary hold by the owners.
We believe the situation in the poultry is very much like that of the swine. We do not believe there is any significant threat of human illness from consuming poultry that may have been given very low levels of the contaminated pet food, for exactly the same reason as with the swine. It's only a small portion of what the poultry was fed, and human consumers will only eat poultry as a small part of their overall diet. Like the swine, we have absolutely no evidence that the poultry came to any harm. So overall, the two situations are very similar, and we are continuing to follow up on investigations on both of those as we move forward.
At this stage, as we said before on these calls, this is an ongoing investigation, and new data will almost certainly come to light as we continue to work through the various avenues that we're currently operating under jointly with USDA and our state and local colleagues.
With that I'd like to hand it back to Julie.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Dr. Acheson. Now we'd like to ask Dr. Kenneth Petersen with the USDA to provide the updates on the USDA.
DR. KENNETH PETERSEN: Okay, thank you, and good afternoon everybody. Well, as you just heard, Dr. Acheson walked through a couple of the factors regarding consumption for swine and poultry and because of those factors with the low percentage in their diet and low consumption on average by American consumers for pork and poultry, meaning it's not a major part of their diet, therefore we're not initiating any recall of these meat products associated with the animals at this time.
We do continue to work jointly with FDA at all levels regarding the investigation in both the rice gluten and now the wheat gluten, and our sense is that the investigation will lead to additional farms where contaminated feed may have been fed to either animals or poultry. But that will come as the data and investigation continues.
Currently there are six states involved with the swine part of the investigation. That's California, Kansas, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Utah, and then as you heard Indiana is the primary state of interest regarding poultry that were fed the contaminated feed. And I think we'll stop there and turn it back to the moderator.
OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time if you would like to ask questions please press *1 on your phone, and (unclear).
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, please state your name and affiliation, and let's go with one question so that we can get through as many as possible this afternoon.
Excuse me. Do you want to do the international piece now or wait?
MODERATOR: Sure. We can do that. That was Walter Batts with our Office of International Programs. Go ahead, Walter.
DR. WALTER BATTS: I'd just like to report that we currently have two FDA staffers, officials on the ground--a senior international policy specialist for China and one of our field investigators. They will be joined by a third investigator tomorrow. On this past Monday, April 30, our senior policy analyst did have a meeting with officials of the Chinese government's general Administration for Quality Supervision Inspection and Quarantine, known as AQSIQ. During that meeting we were briefed on the investigation that the Chinese government has done to date. We also secured an agreement to have full cooperation from the Chinese government as we investigate this matter.
As you know, there's a big holiday going on this week in China and there are a number of officials, essentially all the officials are on holiday, but they have committed to have at least one official to work this week to again review what they have learned so far and to plan future cooperative efforts that will take place over the next few days and over the next week including visits to appropriate sites.
With that, I conclude my statement on the international front.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Walter. Operator, we'd now like to open up the line and take some calls.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Marian Falco with CNN may ask a question.
REPORTER: Hi. Do you know how many people may have consumed chicken products? You're saying that pork and chicken is not a big part of the American diet, but I bet there are plenty of folks out there who would disagree with that. And also can you clarify what the Chinese say they do or don't do with melamine, because there have been conflicting reports. They say they don't put it in pet products; it appears that obviously they do. So what do you have to clarify on that end?
MODERATOR: Dr. Acheson?
DR. ACHESON: Let me first try to clarify what I meant by the 'don't form a large part of the diet.' I did not mean to imply for that there are not a large number of American consumers eating pork and poultry. That is not what I meant. The contrast to draw here is with a pet who frequently will consume the same sort of food 100 percent. But if you have a contaminated product and it's 100 percent of the pet food, that's a very different scenario from a human consumer in which chicken or pork is just essentially the meat on the side of the plate with the two veggies. That's what I was implying is that poultry typically is not an exclusive nutrient in the human diet.
I'll pass the rest of it, I think, over to Dr. Petersen.
DR. PETERSEN: Could you repeat the second?
REPORTER: The question I had was: how many people may have eaten some of these chicken products? Your press release yesterday was very vague. It was processed. But how much? How many people may have consumed this? You told us about 350 hogs in California and Kansas and Utah, but how many chickens are we talking about? How many people might be out there?
DR. PETERSEN: Okay. Well, we have, of course, have to remember we haven't found any evidence to indicate consumption of this is unsafe. Yesterday when we identified the farms of interest, so now we're looking at the farms, and then what was determined was the poultry were fed this feed several months ago. And so, given the short lifespan of chickens when they grow out, those have already gone into the food chain and so we would need to look at what individual plants they may have gone to.
But given those other consumption factors that Dr. Acheson has indicated, that's not a feature of our investigation today. It's trying to find how many people consume chicken from these individual farms. As he indicated, chicken of course is an important part of the American diet; it's not necessarily something that people are going to eat every day and on an ongoing basis. So because we don't see any health issue because of the consumption factors, how many people could have eaten infected chicken – or, not infected, but the chicken that consumed the contaminated feed or even pork that was consumed -- is not the feature of our investigation today.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Greg Presto with MarketWatch.
REPORTER: Hi. Thanks for taking the call and having it today. To that same end, I'm wondering not 'how many people may have eaten the chicken,' but 'how many chickens are being held by the breeder farms,' and 'how many of the broiler chickens are expected to have been sent out and processed?'
MODERATOR: Dr. Petersen?
DR. PETERSEN: On the breeder end, currently the estimated numbers we're working off of is around 100,000 breeders that are waiting to be depopulated.
REPORTER: How much does, how many – can you give me kind of an idea of what that is of the total market for the year or anything like that?
DR. PETERSEN: Well, for breeders, what we call a heavy fowl, let me just, off the cuff, probably, total heavy fowl slaughter I would say would be several million.
REPORTER: Okay. And as far as the broilers?
DR. PETERSEN: I'm sorry? Say it again?
REPORTER: How many of the broilers are expected to have eaten the feed and gone out into process?
DR. PETERSEN: That's the working number is several million, in the range of 2.5 to 3 million.
REPORTER: 3 million broiler chickens?
DR. PETERSEN: 2.5 to 3, again out of a national broiler slaughter number is over 90 billion.
REPORTER: Oh, out of 90 billion?
DR. PETERSEN: I added a zero. There are 9 billion. So 2 or 3 million out of 9 billion would be top end.
REPORTER: 3 million out of 9 billion.
DR. PETERSEN: Correct. Approximately 9, 9.2 [billion] young chickens slaughtered in this country every year.
REPORTER: Okay, thank you.
MODERATOR: Thanks. Next question.
OPERATOR: Abigail Goldman with the Los Angeles Times.
REPORTER: Good afternoon. Dr. Acheson, I wanted to know your new position. What does that allow you to do, or the agency to do, that you were not able to do before, and how exactly -- can you be a little more specific on how this can help ensure the safety of the human or pet food chains?
DR. ACHESON: Well, this is David Acheson. I don't want to devote huge chunks of this call to talking about my new position. The purpose of this call is to talk about the melamine situation. But a brief response is to essentially tell you that this position was set up by the Commissioner at FDA with a view to developing a strategic trans-agency approach to all food safety and food defense issues. Hence, its title: 'Food Protection,' which encompasses both. Within that, it encompasses food and feed at all levels involving the centers and the fields as well as research components of the agency. So the goal, as I said, is to develop a strategic way of thinking, moving to the future, acknowledging that there's been change in recent years with regard to food safety and food defense on both a domestic and the import front and develop a strategic vision to tackle that.
The second component of the position is to coordinate situations such as this where we've got significant health hazards related to food and feed that cross multiple sectors of the agency. But I'd be happy to follow up further with you directly on this, but I don't want to sidetrack this call which has a different purpose.
REPORTER: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Next question, please?
OPERATOR: Rick Weiss with The Washington Post.
REPORTER: Hi, thank you. Rick Weiss from The Post. Julie, I hope you'll give us the spelling of the name of 'Batts' internationally. But my question is: is your investigation going along the lines that there may be chickens still alive, broilers still alive, that may have been fed this feed within the last few months? And if so, what can you tell us about how many may be in play here? And I want to be clear, if there are some still alive, even though you don't think there's any health risk from eating them, are you not required by law to order them held or to make sure that they are depopulated since they must be deemed adulterated since they ate adulterated food?
DR. PETERSEN: It's Dr. Petersen. Well, the chickens, broiler numbers are what I suggested, so approximately 2.5 to 3 million, and indications are they were fed back in February, and so the typical lifespan of a young chicken these days is about 42, 43 days before they come to market. So they would have been slaughtered sometime of course thereafter, and already gone through distribution channels. So likely they were slaughtered sometime in March.
REPORTER: But this food was still circulating in March. So how do you know there weren't any chickens fed the stuff in March and are still alive?
DR. PETERSEN: Okay, that's part of the investigation that of course has been ongoing as FDA went to the individual pet food manufacturers. Then we determined where if anyplace the scraps have been, and this is to date the chicken feed mill is the only one that's been identified. And then that went to multiple farms. Then on the -- you talk about holding animals, the same principles we discussed the other day for swine whereas if there were swine on farms and the same with poultry that were known to have been fed the contaminated feed, then we would not be in a position to apply the market inspection to those animals. Therefore the same depopulation discussion we had with the section 32 funds would be applicable to the poultry. And so at this point the poultry that are still alive, that we have reason to believe consumed the feed, are the approximately 100,000 heavy fowl.
REPORTER: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Rick, Walter Batts' last name is spelled B-A-T-T-S.
REPORTER: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Next question, please?
OPERATOR: Elizabeth Weise with USA Today.
REPORTER: Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I had a question about the import restriction that was put into place on Friday. What was the motivation for broadening that beyond the two original restrictions?
MODERATOR: We're going to ask Michael Rogers who is the director of our Division of Field Investigations, to take that question.
DR. MICHAEL ROGERS: Thank you. I think the analytical results that we have associated with the two sources of origin in China as well as what we're seeing and as far as our trace-forward investigations warrant the agency taking, initiating an import alert, a country-wide import alert to include a detention without physical examination that is countrywide for the following vegetable protein products from China. Wheat gluten, rice gluten, rice protein, rice protein concentrate, corn gluten, corn gluten meal, corn byproducts, soy protein, soy gluten, and other proteins including mung beans. And that is presently in effect.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question?
OPERATOR: Christopher Doering with Reuters.
REPORTER: Hi. I wonder if you guys could just update: last Friday or last Thursday it was mentioned that a poultry feed mill in Missouri may have purchased the contaminated feed. I wanted to know if that facility was still part of the investigation and what you folks have found so far.
MR. BILL SMITH: This is Bill Smith with the Office of Enforcement and Evaluation. We are still doing fact-finding, and we have not arrived at a final conclusion on that. But we're still investigating and looking at that.
REPORTER: How long do you anticipate that portion of the investigation taking? It was last Thursday that it was first brought out there as a potential target.
MR. SMITH: We are working closely with FDA on that. I don't want to guess at a timeframe. As soon as we know something we will make that known to everybody.
REPORTER: Are there any other states or facilities within other states that you're currently looking at in addition to Indiana and Missouri?
MR. SMITH: We're -- as Dr. Petersen said, this is an ongoing investigation. So as information becomes available to us, of course we are going to follow back and collect that information and do records and that kind of thing.
DR. ACHESON: This is David Acheson of FDA. Just to add something to that, and thanks Bill, one of the things we're trying to be careful about is not go out with information that we haven't confirmed, especially with regards to the states. It's important, that is a very broad, ongoing, complex, multipronged investigation, and we don't want to go out with information until we're sure that it's accurate. Much of this is still ongoing, and, as I said before, because of its very nature and the nature of this investigation, there is a distinct possibility that it will broaden. I'm not saying that it will, but we need to be prepared for that to happen. But we don't want at this stage to go out with speculation.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: (unclear) with ABC News.
REPORTER: Yes, hi. Thanks for taking my question. I was wondering, with regards to the import restrictions placed on wheat gluten, rice gluten, etcetera: are there any food products on grocery shelves today that consumers should be concerned about that may be tainted?
DR. ACHESON: This is David Acheson of FDA. 'No' is the answer to that. One of the questions, that we had very early on, is whether any of this contaminated rice protein concentrate or wheat gluten may have been used as an ingredient in human food directly. All our investigations to date have shown that is not the case. That gives me an opportunity to say briefly, you've heard about the preventative strategy that we're doing with pork. But there is a parallel preventative strategy that we're doing domestically which I discussed last week, which is a surveillance assignment in which our investigators are going out to a number of domestic manufacturers who use protein concentrate, educating them about the importance of having good knowledge about their suppliers and obtaining samples of various protein concentrates and testing them for the presence of melamine. And again that's another part of the investigation that's just getting underway, and it's unpredictable where that will go. It may yield positive, it may not.
But to answer your original question, I want to emphasize right now there is no indication that any of this contaminated product ended up directly in human food.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Lori Adder with the Wall Street Journal.
REPORTER: Thank you very much. Can you give any more specific examples of what the USDA and the FDA plan on doing differently in the future to prevent contamination incidents? Also, have you pegged a number to how much the government is expecting to spend on depopulating animals and indemnifying farmers?
DR. ACHESON: I'd ask Dr. Petersen to take the second part of that. This is David Acheson. Let me try to at least speak to FDA's side of the first part. Right now we're focused on this active investigation. I think we're already learning lessons from this, and for example we generally base our resources where the higher risks are. That's our strategy. It typically works. I think we've had two examples recently -- one wheat gluten and not terribly long ago peanut butter -- where we had food safety issues linked to products and ingredients that we did not typically consider high risk.
So we are in the process of reexamining that whole scenario, and that speaks to both imports and domestic in terms of rethinking the strategic approach as to how to address these.
REPORTER: Can you elaborate on how you are rethinking that strategic approach?
DR. ACHESON: That's part of the remake of my position, and I've been in it about four hours, so I'm not quite there yet.
REPORTER: Okay. Good luck.
MODERATOR: Dr. Petersen, would you like to take the second question?
DR. PETERSEN: Sure. On the financial aspects of the depopulation, that's the Section 32 funds which, of course, as we've suggested, are designed to restore the purchasing power to the farmers, the affected growers, and I don't have, I wish I did today, I don't have a dollar value for you. The number of head of swine hasn't really changed as we suggested the other day, roughly 6,000 or so. And then the poultry number that I mentioned today. First we'd need to determine the fair market value of those animals prior to where the market was prior to when this notification went out -- that's kind of how it's done -- and any associated costs with the depopulation.
So until we know kind of the raw numbers and then put a dollar value on the individual market value of those animals, I won't be a position to give you a dollar figure.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question?
OPERATOR: Daniel Goldstein with Bloomberg News.
REPORTER: Yes, hi. Just a question on the 38 or so farms in Indiana. Can you tell us who owns those farms? Those are commercial farms, they are contract growers, and who actually they were supplying poultry to?
MODERATOR: Give us one second, please.
DR. ACHESON: This is David Acheson. At this time we are not able to do that because it's part of an ongoing active investigation.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We'll take the next question.
OPERATOR: Lester Aldrich with Dow Jones News Wireless.
REPORTER: Yes. Do you have any sense of how long this has been going on in China? This whole thing seems to be well-known over there, like it's common knowledge. Have we been importing these kinds of products for a long period of time?
DR. ACHESON: This David Acheson at FDA. The truthful answer to your question is that we don't know. Clearly, that is a concern as to whether this has been going on for some period of time, and, if it has, how come it's just surfaced. You could speculate that the reason it just surfaced is for some reason the ratio of the melamine to the melamine-related compounds was different in a couple of batches. That's what triggered the alert here because it made the pets sick and caused a serious examination investigation of the whole system. So I don't know how long this has been going on, but I too have read reports that this is not something that started recently, but as to the facts we don't have them. I'm hopeful that maybe some of our investigations in China will give us better insight into some of that.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question?
OPERATOR: Steve Hedges with the Chicago Tribune.
REPORTER: Yes. I want to ask you about your decision on the recall. You seem to be suggesting that it's too late to do a recall because of the life cycle of the poultry. But why not let consumers decide whether they want to consume that food? And name the companies and the farms where the chickens came from. I mean, a lot of people freeze chicken, a lot of stores freeze chicken.
DR. PETERSEN: Dr. Petersen. Well, again, I mean it's more than just the shelf life of poultry or swine as Dr. Acheson suggested. When you look at what's the potential exposure and at best it seems extremely low – again, for the factors that he mentioned. This -- the wheat gluten or the rice gluten, were just small components of the pet food, so we start with that as being a small component. Then the way swine and poultry are raised today, these are pretty sophisticated operations where they have very defined rations and so the pet food byproducts that went into the rations were just a very small component. He mentions 5 percent, so it's a small part of the pet food. Then it's a small part of the feed, and it was -- if anything, indications are it was fed for a very brief period of time.
And then you look at the frequency of people consuming pork or chicken. So all those things together, along with no evidence of any harm associated with people from eating processed pork or chicken, we made a decision, and we think it's the appropriate decision in concert with FDA, that no recall is being issued at this time.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: John Rockov (sp?) with the Baltimore Sun.
REPORTER: I just had a question about the melamine. Do you all have any better idea whether it was indeed the melamine that caused the deaths of the cats and dogs, and how it may have acted?
DR. ACHESON: This is David Acheson at FDA. There's a real absence of toxicity data on melamine other than some somewhat old studies in rats. They do indicate that very, very high levels of oral ingestion of melamine can lead to significant illness in the rats in the form of bladder stones and ultimately cancer. That's way higher than any of the levels that we've seen ingested by the animals. So it begs the question then, what was going on, and I think as this has unfolded and the toxicity phase have been looked at, what we're seeing here is that it's probably some sort of combination effect of melamine plus some of the melamine-related compounds that is actually what's causing the toxicity.
That's my view of it, and I certainly would invite Dr. Sundloff if he's got further insights into that.
DR. STEPHEN SUNDLOFF: The information that we've seen seems to imply the more information that -- imply that there's an interaction between melamine and some other related compound that produced severe acute renal failure.
MODERATOR: That was Dr. Acheson first and then Dr. Stephen Sundloff, Director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine second. Next question, please?
OPERATOR: Priscilla Goodnough (sp?) with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
REPORTER: Hi. I wonder if you could just update the basic statistics on the pet food recall, because I've seen different numbers. How many pet food products have actually been recalled at this point, and what percentage of the total market is that, that was supposed to be 1 percent of all the available pet foods initially, and I'm not sure what that figure is now. And I also wanted to confirm that the FDA has received unconfirmed reports of 1,950 cat deaths and 2,200 dog deaths related to contaminated food. Is that correct?
MODERATOR: We're going to ask Michael Rogers to take that.
MR. ROGERS: Yes, I'll take your second question. What we'd like to reveal is the agency has received as many as 17,000 calls into the agency regarding this pet food incident that are alleging some association with animal illness or death associated to recalled product. Of those, about 8,000 or so have been entered into our official data system and have been evaluated and roughly 50 percent of those allege an animal death. As part of a long-term project, the agency is going to be evaluating the balance of those to determine their direct association to some of these recalled products.
MODERATOR: Thank you. On your first question, you're asking the percentage of pet foods affected by the contamination? Is that, of the total pet food on the market?
REPORTER: Well, also and the bare numbers, because it looks like there are a couple of different ways of calculating this. By one list it looks like maybe 150 brands or formulations but I've also seen 5,300. And I wonder if you could explain the difference in how you're counting those things. And what percentage of the overall supply of pet food that constitutes?
MODERATOR: I'm going to ask Dr. Sundloff to take that.
DR. SUNDLOFF: I don't have exact figures. The 153 are actually different product labels that have been recalled. Now of those product labels there are a number of different packaging sizes, production dates, and when you take all of that information into account it comes to over 5,000, something around the order of 5,500 different products that were recalled. But of those, all of those, they represent about 150 brands, different products themselves. Again, they are listed by production dates. So certain production dates were subject to recall, other production dates weren't, and that's where you get all these large numbers.
I just, adding on to what Michael Rogers said, those reports of deaths are just that. They are people that called in and reported a death that they believe might be related to the pet food. We have not confirmed those yet as to whether or not those truly were related to the pet food, and that's something that's going to take some time.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question?
OPERATOR: Alex (unclear) with the New York Times.
REPORTER: Yeah, hi. I was wondering, if you guys knew just how many domestic plants are you actually visiting in your search for melamine or melamine-related compounds? And also, are you asking for any emergency resources to do this investigation either domestically or in China?
DR. ACHESON: This is David Acheson. In terms of the first part of your question, there's two pieces to it. One is in terms of the follow-up of the current investigation. We're just going to the places that we need to go to, based on the information that we get. The second part to that is with regard to the domestic surveillance assignment. And there the intention is to get out to as many of the firms as we can who we know based on our records received Chinese wheat protein concentrate. Let me rephrase that. Who received Chinese protein concentrate, vegetable origin. That's essentially the driver of what that is. The goal is to get to as many of those as quickly as we can. Obviously the resources are being devoted to the current immediate crisis, and we're also taking that up into the domestic piece.
REPORTER: How many plants do you think, do you believe received Chinese protein concentrated vegetable origin exactly?
DR. ACHESON: At this point I don't have a number on that in terms of the total number of plants.
REPORTER: But it's several hundred? Is it just dozens? How many are we talking about, just kind of roughly if you don't have an exact number?
DR. ACHESON: As I say I don't have an exact number but it could well be in the hundreds. The other thing that I wanted to emphasize is that we're working cooperatively with the states on this, so they are helping us with the assignment. And that's proving to be a big help. With regard to your question about resources, we have been in discussion with HHS around resources of getting more people into help within our Emergency Operations Center, and that's working out well.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question?
OPERATOR: (unclear) with Media Services.
REPORTER: Thank you. It seems that if the melamine could put down a cat or a 160-pound Great Dane theoretically or the melamine combined with other substances, you'd have to explain to me how is it, then, that, say, a little baby eating chicken babyfood for a week, maybe even with other babyfood, could not at all be affected. I mean it can't be good I don't think. I also have one more question about Senator Durbin and Representative DeLauro's introduction of their package which they are calling the Safe Food Act, I believe. I'm curious how the FDA feels about that.
MODERATOR: As a matter of policy we wouldn't comment on proposed legislation, but Dr. Acheson can take your question.
DR. ACHESON: Yes. I understand your concern here with regard to small infants consuming poultry that may have been fed contaminated feed, but I want to emphasize that the dilution factors here are enormous. We have a raw ingredient which is made up, say we pick the wheat gluten. Wheat gluten only has some percentage of it that's got the melamine-related compounds in it, a few percent. That is used to manufacture pet food. Only a small amount of that pet food is used to manufacture the feed that's fed to either the hogs or the chickens. The compounds in there, the melamine and melamine-related compounds, at least in the hogs, we know the melamine is excreted in the urine where we're certainly not aware that there's any bio-accumulation.
So we're already going into these animals with very, very low levels. When you combine that with the fact that the amount of chicken or pork that would be consumed even by a baby on the bodyweight basis, would be pretty small. Babies typically do not live exclusively off just chicken or just pork. It's a mixed diet to be nutritionally complete.
When you multiply all those factors in, we believe the likelihood of illness to humans, including infants, is extremely small, that there really is no likelihood of a problem. And it really is a dilutional argument. It's not the same as feeding it to a cat or a dog. We know that's a problem. But that said – this exclusive diet, it's a much higher level going into the animal than you'd ever see after it's been diluted multiple times and then gone through another animal before it's ever reached the human mouth.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: (unclear), with the Salt Lake Tribune.
REPORTER: Yes. I read conflicting reports on the swine. How many swine do you think or do you estimate have gone into the human food supply? And my second question related to that is: are you continuing your investigation of the Utah manufacturing plant?
MODERATOR: Would USDA like to take those two questions?
DR. PETERSEN: Just one minute. Okay. Well, the swine number is, as I suggested earlier, it was in the press release last Thursday. We're still working with the total exposure number for swine from the farms that we've confirmed that received the contaminated feed and the swine ate the contaminated feed. The total numbers are still around 6,000. And then of that we're determining which or how many went to market, but we know who's on the farm today and that's the preponderance of the 6,000. And then –
REPORTER: So how many have gone to market?
DR. PETERSEN: Yes, that's what, as we go to the farms we'll have to look at, what are the age of the swine and then how many have been distributed, but early indications are well over 5,500, 5,600 of them were still resident on the farm. Then the Utah plant, yes, we're still involved with that establishment.
REPORTER: Do you know where that feed is going from that plant or where they've shipped that feed, that plant?
DR. PETERSEN: Well, the feed from the Utah plant?
DR. PETERSEN: Yes. They went to, as I understand it, there are upwards of four farms of interest, feed-related farms and swine farms of interest, in Utah that we're specifically looking at. And then, but back to the 6,000 we'll have to keep and get back to what Dr. Acheson said, even if there's a small number we look at that number of swine that were slaughtered and then perhaps made their way into the marketplace. If it's a small number, then you have these additional factors that, as he indicated, there's no evidence of any kind that suggest there's a concern.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And FDA will continue to work with the USDA and provide data on the number of farms that have confirmed cases of hogs and poultry that we have determined have consumed the contaminated feed. As soon as we can do that we will commit to doing that. Next question, please?
OPERATOR: Debbie Turner with CBS News.
REPORTER: Yes. Hello, thank you very much for taking the call. I understand from the report from Mr. Batts on the International front that there's a holiday going on right now in China. But has there been any meetings and is there any preliminary indication as to how the government will cooperate with our investigation, and are they still maintaining the position that there is no melamine put in their ingredients that they ship to the U.S.?
MODERATOR: Walter, are you still on the line?
MR. BATTS: Yes, I am. Can you hear me? Yes. This is Walter Batts. As I reported earlier, I've seen the international policy specialist who was on the ground on Monday, met with a number of officials from AQSIQ concerning the investigations that they have done to date. We are interested in looking at, during our visit there, in how we can work cooperatively to get at the bottom of this contamination. There is a big holiday going on. I guess it would be like officials coming here on the 4th of July and say they want to meet with everybody. But be that as it may, they have made officials available. We have a meeting planned on Thursday to discuss matters further and to plan for whatever visits we believe are appropriate so that our investigators can take a further look and try to get at the bottom of this.
REPORTER: Just curious, what holiday is it?
MR. BATTS: I think it's called May Day, and it's typically a full week beginning on Monday. The government facilities are actually closed down. Many of the folks go on extended holiday for the week.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for just a few more questions, so let's take the next one.
OPERATOR: Karen Roebuck with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
REPORTER: Hi. Regarding the April 27 import alert, it said that about 750 samples of wheat gluten and products were tested, and 330 were positive for melamine-related compounds. Are those all pet food samples? And have any human food samples in the surveillance to date, I mean even a single one, tested positive? And also, it seems contradictory to say that you have to put down the pigs because they are not safe enough to be slaughtered now and go into the market, but yet it's safe enough not to recall the ones that have already been slaughtered.
MODERATOR: Let's start with Michael Rogers and then maybe we could go to Dr. Sundloff.
MR. ROGERS: I'll comment on the first part of the question. I'm not going to get into the specific numbers. Certainly when this import alert was published those potentially represented the numbers at the time, but this is an ongoing investigation, and we continue to analyze samples and receive additional data that would alter the positives and negatives. Having said that, the import alert, which is detention without physical exam, is a proactive opportunity by the agency to take a look at these vegetable protein products. But it's certainly important to reference that all of the positive samples for rice protein concentrate and wheat gluten have been associated to two primary sources in China.
REPORTER: But were they all pet food, or were any of them in human food?
MR. ROGERS: There is no evidence to suggest that any of the bulk products went to human food manufacturers.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Dr. Petersen, would you like to take the second part of that question?
DR. PETERSEN: Yes. Thank you. On Thursday's call, we mentioned, when we look at the feed and FDA made a determination that the feed -- where they knew had been mixed with a contaminated pet food -- was the feed that was found to be adulterated. And so that's in this case a legal term. It wasn't specifically related to – well it was a legal term. Then our burden, when those animals, pigs in this case, come to slaughter, is: can we find them not adulterated? And when we know they've eaten feed that FDA found adulterated, we're not able to put the mark of inspection on those animals. So it is, in this case it's the appropriate decision. It's a legal interpretation for us to be able to apply the mark of inspections for animals that come to market.
Then those that are already in commerce as we walk through on this call, that they are just no health issues as best either agency, particularly FDA, can determine. So it's a legal issue regarding the live animals. We think it's a prudent decision to prevent further possible entry into commerce, and we're legally obligated to do that because of the decisions made on the feed, and then on anything that may be in commerce, given the health issues and the lack of that we discussed, that we don't think any further action is appropriate.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And ladies and gentlemen, we have time for one more question.
OPERATOR: (unclear) with King TV News, Seattle.
REPORTER: Thanks for taking my question. You mentioned earlier that on the detention list was corn gluten. Have you determined that melamine presence in corn gluten of any kind? And what barnyard application would corn gluten have? For what animal would that feed be provided?
DR. ACHESON: This is David Acheson. I'll certainly take the first part. In the context of in the United States, no, we have not found any evidence of contamination of corn gluten. But historically that has happened a couple years ago in South Africa. So we know there's precedent for that, which is one of the reasons why we're looking more broadly than wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate.
And the second part of your question, could you repeat that?
REPORTER: I'm wondering in a farm application which barnyard animals or food animals would be fed feed containing corn gluten?
DR. ACHESON: Can I ask Dr. Sundloff? Do you want to comment?
DR. SUNDLOFF: Yes. I mean it's used like any other vegetable protein to add a source of protein to animal feed, so it could be used for any domestic species including cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys, as well as pets.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Do any of our speakers have any final comments, thoughts? Okay. Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes our briefing this afternoon, and I'd like to thank all of our speakers – Dr. Acheson, Dr. Petersen, Mr. Batts, Mr. Rogers, Mr. Smith, and Dr. Sundloff. I'd like to thank all of you for your participation, and for the coverage that you're doing on these investigations. It's very important to us that the word gets out, so we appreciate all that you're doing. And if you have follow-up questions, please contact the FDA Press Office or the USDA Press Office and check our website for regular updates. We will have another briefing on Thursday at 4:00 p.m.
For further information: FDA.gov