KANSAS CITY — Prominent U.S. vital wheat gluten companies have been busy reassuring customers in the wake of the disclosure that contaminated gluten in pet food manufactured by Menu Foods is thought to have caused the deaths of several pets.
"It hasn’t been found in any food products, and we haven’t seen any impact on the food side, the bakery side," said Gerard A. Degnan, president, Manildra Group USA, Shawnee Mission, Kas. "We’ve responded to all of our customers, guaranteeing certificates of origin and a statement that lets them know we are not involved in any recalls."
Mr. Degnan said neither of the chemicals alleged to have been found in the pet food, melamine and aminopterin, is allowed in either the United States or Australia, a source for some Manildra gluten.
"We apply strict quality assurance guidelines in order to guarantee the highest quality, purity and safety," Mr. Degnan said.
Steve Pickman, vice-president of corporate relations at MGP Ingredients, Inc., Atchison, Kas., said the food industry’s focus needs to be on how ingredients are processed, not on the safety of a single ingredient such as vital wheat gluten.
"The issue isn’t wheat gluten," he said. "It is under what conditions is the gluten processed."
Decatur, Ill.-based Archer Daniels Midland has assured its customers that none of its products were involved in the recall, but noted the recall "demonstrates the need for food and feed manufacturers to know their suppliers and to ensure that these suppliers are responsible for the quality and safety of the ingredients they sell."
Implicated in the Menu Foods recall has been Chinese gluten imported by Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd. (see story above).
Both MGPI and Manildra have experienced an upturn in inquiries from pet food manufacturers seeking new sources for vital wheat gluten.
"Quite honestly, we do very little business on the pet food side, but we’re hearing from these companies," Mr. Degnan said. "They are exploring alternate suppliers, but we remain committed to meeting the needs of our baking industry customers."
Beyond the short-term effects of the Menu Foods incident, including a possible uptick in sales, Mr. Pickman voiced concerns about the potential for negative ramifications longer term.
"We are hopeful the industry can avoid potentially serious consumer backlash against wheat gluten and ultimately, wheat and other wheat-based ingredients, including flour," Mr. Pickman said. "What’s key is gaining greater clarity about the source of this problem and exactly how it entered the system."
Mr. Pickman predicted certain food manufacturers may opportunistically try to prey on consumer uncertainty by touting their products as not containing vital wheat gluten.
"Vital wheat gluten has been a highly regarded ingredient in the baking industry forever, and we will continue to supply the same high quality products we have been known for for decades," Mr. Degnan said.