Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations
February 6, 2008: Chinese, American Business Owners Indicted for Importing Tainted Ingredient Used in Pet Food
Thousands of pets suffered illness, death throughout the United States
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – John F. Wood, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that two Chinese businesses and their top executives, along with a United States company and its owners, were indicted by a federal grand jury today, in separate but related cases, for their roles in manufacturing and importing a tainted ingredient used to make pet food, which resulted in the death and serious illness of countless pets in the United States last year.
In today’s global economy, crimes that occur halfway around the world can seriously impact our lives,” said Wood. “Millions of pet owners remember the anxiety of last year’s pet food recall. These indictments are the product of an investigation that began in the wake of that recall. We take seriously our responsibility to uphold the health and safety standards that protect America’s food supply. Vigorous enforcement is an essential part of that effort.”
Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., LTD. (XAC), a Chinese processor of plant proteins that exports products to the United States; Mao Linzhun, age unknown, a Chinese national who is believed to currently reside in China and was the owner and manager of XAC; Suzhou Textiles, Silk, Light Industrial Products, Arts and Crafts I/E Co., LTD. (SSC), a Chinese export broker that was used by XAC to export products to the United States; and Chen Zhen Hao, 58, a Chinese national who is believed to currently reside in China and was the president of SSC; were charged in a 26-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Kansas City.
Chemnutra, Inc., a company headquartered in Las Vegas, Nev., that buys food and food components in China and imports those items into the United States to sell to companies in the food industry, along with company owners Sally Qing Miller, 41, a Chinese national, and Stephen S. Miller, 55, who are married, were charged in a separate, but related, 27-count indictment. Sally Miller is the controlling owner and president of ChemNutra; Stephen Miller is an owner and chief executive officer of ChemNutra.
Today’s indictments allege that more than 800 metric tons of wheat gluten was exported to the United States in at least 13 separate shipments, with invoices totaling nearly $850,000, between Nov. 6, 2006, and Feb. 21, 2007. According to the indictment, those shipments of wheat gluten, which were falsely labeled in order to avoid inspection in China, were tainted with melamine, an unsafe food additive. ChemNutra and the Millers received the melamine-tainted product at a port of entry in Kansas City, Mo., the indictment says, and then sold the product to their customers, who used it to manufacture various brands of pet food. Countless pets throughout the United States suffered serious illness and death after eating the tainted pet food.
Pet Food Recall
Pet food manufacturers recalled more than 150 brands of dog and cat food across the nation last year, following reports of cats and dogs suffering kidney failure after eating the affected products. On March 15, 2007, the Food and Drug Administration learned that certain pet foods were sickening and killing cats and dogs. FDA received more than 14,000 consumer complaints within the month – more than twice the number of complaints typically received in a year for all of the products the agency regulates.
FDA first learned of a problem with pet food manufactured by Menu Foods, Inc. after the company reported illnesses and deaths in cats and dogs that had eaten some of its products. The Canada-based manufacturer, which operates several plants in the United States and Canada, supplies cat and dog food to numerous pet food companies that sell it under various brand names. On March 15, 2007, Menu Foods alerted FDA to 14 animal deaths in the United States: four cats and one dog reported by consumers, and nine cats that died during routine taste trials conducted by the company. In the following months, consumers and veterinarians reported many more illnesses and deaths associated with a wide variety of pet foods.
There is no coordinated national tracking system to monitor the number of pet deaths. However, consumer reports received by the FDA suggest that approximately 1,950 cats and 2,200 dogs died after eating contaminated pet food.
According to today’s indictments, ChemNutra contracted with SSC to purchase wheat gluten. Wheat gluten is the natural protein derived from wheat or wheat flour, which is extracted and dried to yield a powder of high protein content. Pet food manufacturers use wheat gluten as a binding agent in the manufacture of certain types of pet food to thicken pet food "gravy."
Under the terms of that contract, SSC agreed to provide ChemNutra with food grade wheat gluten with a minimum protein content of 75 percent. SSC then entered into a separate contract with XAC to supply the wheat gluten it needed to fulfill its contract with ChemNutra. The indictments allege that melamine was allegedly added to the product in order to make it appear to meet the required protein content specified in the contract with ChemNutra.
Melamine has a number of commercial and industrial uses, but it has no approved use as an ingredient in human or animal food in the United States. Melamine can be used to create products such as plastics, cleaning products, counter tops, glues, inks and fertilizers. According to the indictments, mixing melamine with wheat gluten made the wheat gluten appear to have a higher protein level than was actually present. XAC allegedly added melamine to wheat gluten as a way to fraudulently create the appearance that the wheat gluten had a higher protein level than was actually present. Adding melamine to wheat gluten in this fashion, the indictments say, was cheaper for XAC than increasing the actual protein content.
The indictments allege that SSC labeled the wheat gluten with an inaccurate product code, using a code that is reserved for products that are not subject to compulsory inspection by the General Administration of Quality supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) prior to leaving China. According to the Chinese government, XAC did not declare the contaminated product it shipped to the United States as a raw material for feed or as food. Rather, it was falsely declared to the Chinese government as a product that avoided triggering a mandatory AQSIQ inspection of the XAC manufacturing facilities.
SSC allegedly provided ChemNutra and the Millers with documents that used the inaccurate product code. Based on Sally Miller’s training and experience, the indictments say, she knew the product would not be subjected to mandatory inspection prior to leaving China, but ChemNutra and the Millers did not disclose this to their customers.
According to the indictments, Sally Miller has an engineering degree in food chemistry from Hangzhou University in China and has more than 10 years working experience in China, most of which was in the role of a purchasing manager in China for United States companies. Sally Miller represented herself to be certified in China as an ISO-9000 chief auditor. ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization. ISO-9000 is an international consensus on good quality management practices that provided a set of internationally recognized standardized requirements for a quality management system in any organization.
Specific Charges Contained in the Indictment
Today’s indictments contain 13 felony charges alleging that XAC, SSC, Linzhun and Hao, with the intent to defraud and mislead, delivered adulterated food, which contained melamine, a deleterious substance that rendered the wheat gluten injurious to health, into interstate commerce. The food was also adulterated, the indictments allege, in that the melamine was substituted wholly or in part for the protein requirement of the wheat gluten, and made it appear that the wheat gluten was better or of greater value than it was. The indictments also contain 13 felony charges alleging that XAC, SSC, Linzhun and Hao, with the intent to defraud and mislead, introduced misbranded food into interstate commerce. The indictments allege that the labeling of the food was false because the food was represented to have a minimum protein level of 75 percent, when it did not, and because the food labeled as wheat gluten contained two or more ingredients, including melamine, but melamine was not listed on the label.
Today’s indictments also contain 13 misdemeanor charges alleging that ChemNutra and the Millers delivered adulterated food, which contained melamine, a deleterious substance that rendered the wheat gluten injurious to health, into interstate commerce. The food was also adulterated, the indictments allege, in that the melamine was substituted wholly or in part for the protein requirement of the wheat gluten, and made it appear that the wheat gluten was better or of greater value than it was. The indictments also contain 13 misdemeanor charges alleging that ChemNutra and the Millers introduced misbranded food into interstate commerce. The indictments allege that the labeling of the food was false because the food was represented to have a minimum protein level of 75 percent, when it did not, and because the food labeled as wheat gluten contained two or more ingredients, including melamine, but melamine was not listed on the label.
In addition to the 26 charges related to adulterated and misbranded food, ChemNutra and the Millers are charged with participating in a wire fraud conspiracy. The indictment alleges that, from April 2006 through April 2007, ChemNutra and the Millers participated in a conspiracy to defraud the companies that purchased XAC-manufactured wheat gluten from them, by concealing material facts from those purchasers.
Wood cautioned that the charges contained in these indictments are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.
These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gene Porter and Joseph Marquez. They were investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.