Grand jury indicts companies for melamine contamination of pet food

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A federal grand jury in Kansas City has indicted two Chinese companies and a U.S. company for their roles in manufacturing and importing an adulterated ingredient for use in pet food.

Illness and deaths of animals that ate the food led to a massive recall of products last year and the discovery that the ingredient in question contained the contaminants melamine and cyanuric acid. The Food and Drug Administration later determined that the ingredient, which bore the label "wheat gluten," was actually wheat flour.

Following a federal investigation, the grand jury in Kansas City returned a 26-count indictment against two Chinese companies—Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd., a processor of plant proteins, and export broker Suzhou Textiles, Silk, Light Industrial Products, Arts and Crafts I/E Co. Ltd.—and against the companies' top executives.

The jury returned a 27-count indictment against ChemNutra Inc. of Las Vegas, which imports food and food components from China for sale to companies in the U.S. food industry, and against owners and spouses Sally Qing Miller and Stephen S. Miller.

The indictments allege that more than 800 metric tons of "wheat gluten" was exported from China to the United States in at least 13 shipments, with invoices totaling nearly $850,000, between Nov. 6, 2006, and Feb. 21, 2007. According to the indictments, ChemNutra received the product at a Kansas City port of entry and sold the ingredient to manufacturers of various brands of pet food.

More specifically, the indictments allege that ChemNutra contracted with Suzhou to supply wheat gluten with a minimum protein content of 75 percent. Suzhou then contracted separately with Xuzhou Anying to supply the ingredient. The indictments allege that melamine was added to the "wheat gluten" to make the ingredient appear, in tests, to meet the minimum protein content.

The indictments allege that Suzhou labeled the "wheat gluten" with an inaccurate product code, using a code for products that are not subject to mandatory inspection before leaving China. According to the Chinese government, Xuzhou Anying did not declare the ingredient as a raw material for feed or as food. The indictments further allege that Sally Qing Miller had the training and experience to know from the product code that the ingredient would not be subject to mandatory inspection in China, but ChemNutra and the Millers did not disclose this information to customers.