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Cablegate: Wal-Mart Pulls Chicken Jerky Pet Food Strips From Shelves

VZCZCXRO1470
RR RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHBJ #5950/01 2542344
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 112344Z SEP 07 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY BEIJING
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1713
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHINGTON DC
INFO RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RULSDMK/DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION WASHDC
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEAEPA/HQ EPA WASHDC
RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIJING 005950

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

EAP/PD FOR NIDA EMMONS
HHS FOR OGHA/STEIGER AND PASS TO FDA/LUMPKIN
USDA FOR FSIS/RAYMOND
USDA FOR FAS OA/YOST, OCRA/ALEXANDER, OSTA/BRANT AND SHNITZLER
COMMERCE FOR ITA/HIJIKATA AND CINO
STATE PASS TRANSPORTATION FOR NHTSA ABRAHAM/KRATZKE
STATE PASS CONSUMER PRODUCTS SAFETY COMMISSION RICH O'BRIEN/INTL
PROGRAMS
STATE PASS USTR CHINA OFFICE/TIM WINELAND
STATE PASS OMB/INT'L AFFAIRS
STATE PASS HOMELAND SECURITY COUNCIL
STATE PASS IMPORT SAFETY WORKING GROUP

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR ETRD TBIO ECON PREL HHS CH
SUBJECT: WAL-MART PULLS CHICKEN JERKY PET FOOD STRIPS FROM SHELVES
DUE TO ALLEGED MELAMINE CONTAMINATION

REF: Beijing 4808

BEIJING 00005950 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) Summary: Embassy APHIS Attache and HHS Health Attache were
informed separately on August 30 by the General Administration for
Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) of Wal-Mart's
recent decision to remove chicken jerky pet
food strips manufactured by two Chinese firms from sale in their
stores. FDA conducted testing of chicken jerky products following
receipt of consumer complaints of illness/death of pets beginning
July 1 to August 30, 2007. FDA testing to date has not/not found
any significant levels of contamination that would account for the
illness reported in the 62 complaints received and investigated.
AQSIQ officials, in a meeting with Health Attache September 4,
indicated that they also had not found any melamine in samples of
chicken jerky collected from manufacturing firms in China.
Furthermore, AQSIQ officials requested additional information about
the methodology and testing done by Wal-Mart leading to the removal
and indicated they wished Wal-Mart would restock the product,
claiming the prior action was
destroying the business reputation of the firms involved. End
Summary.

REPORTS OF MELAMINE CONTAMINATION
IN CHICKEN PET FOOD PRODUCTS
---------------------------------

2. (SBU) AQSIQ officials at the end of a regularly scheduled August
30 meeting asked APHIS Attache for more information about the recent
Wal-Mart decision to withdraw chicken jerky products manufactured by
two Chinese firms, Import Pinyang Pet Product Co.
and Shanghai Bestro Trading Company. APHIS Attache referred the
officials to the HHS Health Attache, who has responsibility within
the U.S. Embassy for food safety and had worked with AQSIQ officials
before on melamine contamination during the previous plant
protein-melamine problems in the spring of 2007.

3. (SBU) AQSIQ faxed a letter to the Health Attache materials
regarding Wal-Mart's decision to remove chicken jerky from their
shelves. This fax also contained copies of two news stories, one
from the International Herald Tribune, dated August 22, 2007 and
titled, "Chicken Jerky Strips for Dogs Still Being Tested by FDA";
and another posted August 23, 2007 on News for Cats, Dogs & Owners
and titled, "No Melamine found in Chicken Jerky Strip Dog Treats by
Indiana State Chemist." In turn, HHS Attached passed
this information to both FDA headquarters officials asking for
results of their testing and to the Public Relations Officer for
Wal-Mart China, similarly seeking more detailed information.

U.S. FDA TESTING RESULTS
------------------------

4. (SBU) FDA reported back that they had been receiving consumer
complaints of illness/death beginning on or around July 1 up to
August 30 related to chicken pet treats from China. The products
were several different brands with the only common element being
they contained chicken and are manufactured in China. To date, FDA
indicated they had received 62 complaints that related to various
chicken jerky and chicken pet treats. FDA's Center for Veterinary
Medicine continues to review veterinary medical records of ill
animals and continues to conduct analysis of product both for
chemical and microbial contamination. To date,
there has been no finding of significant levels of contamination
that would account for the illnesses reported. FDA reported that
they continue to investigate these findings. FDA also stated that
they were aware that Wal-Mart was conducting private laboratory
testing of product and removing product from sale.


BEIJING 00005950 002.2 OF 003


CHINESE AQSIQ AND CIQ TESTING RESULTS
-------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Health Attache in a September 3 meeting requested by AQSIQ
shared the FDA testing esults. AQSIQ Department for Supervision on
nimal and Plant Quarantine Animal Quarantine Division Deputy
Director Peng Zhisheng said that his office had become aware of this
alleged melamine contamination issue through
a web search identifying that an export firm in Shanghai had been
subjected to a "pull and hold" order by Wal-Mart. AQSIQ and the
local CIQ conducted tests on chicken pet food products from these
firms without finding any traces of melamine. Explaining further
with specific timelines and results, Peng indicated that they were
aware that a consumer was suing Wal-Mart after a dog's death
following the consumption of chicken jerky in late-July. (Peng did
not indicate where this happened). The Shanghai CIQ (provincial
counterpart to AQSIQ) continues to conduct an investigation into
this allegation by testing products from the firms in question. On
August 24 the Shanghai CIQ tested 12
samples taken without advance notice from these firms; results
showed no evidence of melamine present.

6. (SBU) AQSIQ officials expressed an understanding of both FDA's
and their own CIQ testing results that no melamine contamination of
these pet food chicken jerky products was identified and thus
Wal-Mart's results were not confirmed by either side's testing. Peng
expressed his positive support for the U.S. government's
responsiveness in sharing information from the FDA about this issue,
recollecting a similar interaction during the previous collaboration
with FDA on the wheat-gluten and rice protein contamination
investigations earlier in 2007. They pressed for continued use of a
scientific approach to food and pet food safety and indicated their
wish to reinstate products from these firms back on the shelves of
Wal-Mart. He expressed a similar
understanding that Wal-Mart took these actions to protect customers
health and safety, but felt this action had a negative impact on
trade.

WAL-MART TEST RESULTS AND ACTIONS
---------------------------------

7. (SBU) Wal-Mart removed chicken jerky from their shelves on August
20 following reports of the death of a pet and the owner's lawsuit.
On August 22, Wal-Mart announced that they had found melamine
contamination (20ppm) in 1 of 17 samples tested. This
positive result led to the issuance of a "pull and hold" order for
these chicken jerky pet food products that later was upgraded to a
"pull and return" order after trace elements of melamine were found.
In a September 3 email communication with HHS Attache,
Wal-Mart China Public Relations Director expressed satisfaction in
receiving the FDA results indicating that "they would look into it
further" and promised to share their lab results with the Embassy
and AQSIQ.

8. (SBU) Test results from Silliker Inc., Food Safety & Quality
Solutions Laboratory in Illinois show that Bestro's Roasted Chicken
Strips were tested in 4 separate batches on August 16 and August 20.
All shipments were received by the laboratory from
Wal-Mart facilities in Bentonville, Arkansas shipped on July 27. One
of the batches, tested on August 20, has confirmation of melamine
contamination at 20 ppm, while the other three batches tested on 10
August show less than 10 ppm. Tests on all batches appear to have
been done using the FDA GC-MS protocol in Silliker's Barcelona,
Spain laboratory.

COMMENT
-------

BEIJING 00005950 003.2 OF 003

9. (SBU) This incident demonstrates how much the relationship
between AQSIQ officials and the HHS has evolved since the
March/April 2007 melamine contamination of wheat gluten and rice
protein that led to the massive pet food recalls in the United
States. In this case, information was shared locally with the
Embassy and with Washington seeking more specifics from all parties
and done in a cordial collaborative fashion looking to understand
the data using scientific approaches. While there was some media
reporting of this incident, both articles indicated the inability to
find more melamine contamination in other samples taken from the
stores in Indiana or from the plant in Shanghai. Interestingly and
different from other food safety
discussion held with U.S. government officials in other settings,
AQSIQ is seeking further media reporting, this time hoping to get
more coverage of the negative tests results from both the American
and Chinese authorities responsible for regulating these
pet food products. Their goal was clearly to get the products back
on the shelves for sale in Wal-Mart by ending the "pull and hold"
orders. AQSIQ's Peng Zhisheng expressed an understanding that this
was really a business decision made by Wal-Mart to
protect the safety and health of its customers and not a regulatory
recall decision. He also indicated to Health Attache an
understanding that U.S. FDA officials could not compel Wal-Mart to
put product back on sale. AQSIQ reiterated that the actions taken
by Wal-Mart had hurt the manufacturers' sales and trade; thus AQSIQ
was seeking a way to assist these companies in rebuilding their
reputation by having their products declared free of contamination.
Finally, AQSIQ expressed appreciation to the Health Attache for
FDA's responsiveness, rapid turn around
and openness in sharing information on this chicken jerky incident.
Peng stated that this episode "demonstrated collaborative and
scientific approaches to resolve difficult issues," and was a sign
of increased collaborative engagements between U.S. and Chinese
officials.

RANDT

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