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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Hog Meat Safe to Eat, Testing Shows

Consumer Update

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About 56,000 hogs that consumed animal feed containing the industrial chemical melamine have been approved for processing. The hogs, which were fed rations supplemented with pet food scraps containing melamine and related compounds, were being held on farms in California, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Kansas, Utah, and Illinois. Testing confirms that meat from these hogs is safe for human consumption, prompting the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow the hogs to be processed. The testing also bolsters the conclusions of an updated human health risk assessment, announced by FDA and USDA in May 2007, that there is very low risk of human illness from eating such meat. Approximately 100 million hogs are processed each year in the United States.

How do we know the hogs are safe to eat? 
Testing of the meat from hogs exposed to the tainted feed confirms that melamine and its compounds do not accumulate in pork—they are filtered out of the body by the kidneys. Hogs known to have eaten this feed appear healthy, which will be confirmed as these animals undergo the rigorous inspection that USDA provides for all meat and poultry prior to processing.

What is the risk assessment?
The human health risk assessment is an important science-based component of the continuing federal investigation into imported vegetable protein products from China that contained melamine and related compounds. Melamine has no approved use in human or animal food in the United States.

FDA and USDA announced the risk assessment May 7, 2007. They announced an updated risk assessment on May 15, 2007.

What information supports the conclusions of the risk assessment?
In the most extreme scenario considered in the assessment, scientists assumed that all the solid food a person eats in an entire day contained melamine and the related compound cyanuric acid at levels potentially present in meat. In this scenario, the potential exposure to humans is about 250 times lower than the dose considered safe. This means that a person weighing 132 pounds would have to eat more than 800 pounds of pork or other food containing melamine and its compounds to reach a level that would cause a health concern.

How does the updated risk assessment differ from the original?
The risk assessments differ in two main areas:

  • The original risk assessment found that in the most extreme scenario, the potential human exposure to melamine was about 2,500 times lower than the safe level. The updated assessment found the exposure to be 250 times lower than the safe level. The variation occurs because the initial assessment assumed that tests of hog meat detected melamine and its compounds. The testing validation process, completed on May 12, revealed that the test detects melamine, but cannot detect melamine-related compounds. The updated assessment calculates risk based on the new updated laboratory information that accounts for the presence of melamine and cyanuric acid, a melamine-related compound detected in the contaminated feed.
  • The original risk assessment assumed that testing could detect levels of melamine and related compounds as low as 10 parts per billion (ppb) in pork. The new assessment assumes that testing can detect levels only as low as 50 ppb in pork, a more conservative assumption. Also, an even higher level of 100 ppb is assumed in order to account for the potential presence of cyanuric acid along with melamine.

When will the risk assessment be finalized?
FDA and USDA are identifying scientific experts to review the updated risk assessment. They will be asked to provide their views to FDA as quickly as possible, with the intent of finalizing the risk assessment within several weeks.

Who conducted the risk assessment?
The risk assessment was conducted by scientists from:

  • FDA
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • USDA

What is happening to chickens that were fed contaminated feed?
At USDA's request, about 80,000 chickens continue to be held at farms in Indiana while a validated test for detecting melamine in poultry meat is developed. That test is expected within the week.

What is happening to fish that were fed contaminated feed?
FDA continues its investigation into the presence of melamine and its compounds in fish feed manufactured by the Canadian company Skretting. The company is recalling all fish feed from all commercial fisheries and fish hatcheries that may have received it, including those in the United States. FDA has confirmed that 2 U.S. commercial aquaculture establishments received the feed. The fish in those 2 establishments are on hold and samples of the fish and the feed are being tested for melamine levels. Based on the human risk assessment, there is very low risk from eating fish that consumed feed containing melamine.

USDA and FDA continue to conduct a full and comprehensive investigation. As additional information is confirmed, updates will be provided and decisions will be made using the best available science to protect the public's health.

Date Posted: April 23, 2007