Michigan Farm Council Exposes Snyder Administration’s Lack Of Testing And Press Release After Contamination Investigation

The Michigan Small Farm Council (MSFC) reports that the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD), under Gov. Snyder’s administration, failed to test food samples after toxic levels of lasalocid was found in feed given to animals being raised for meat in 2014. MSFC says that MDARD also failed to produce any press release about the incident.

The contaminant was first discovered in livestock feed around the same time that the Flint water crisis was unfolding behind the closed doors of the Snyder administration. In August of 2014, over 50,000 turkeys died from contaminated feed in Michigan. In September 2014, the regulatory agency discovered that 20,000 hogs (belonging to the same network of farms that lost 50,000 turkeys) were also fed lasalocid-contaminated feed, according to a press release from the MSFC.

“The product was sold as Lascadoil, which is used in the biofuel industry,” State of Michigan veterinarian James Averill said. Lasalocid is a drug used in some farm animals as an antibiotic, but it is not suitable for swine, humans, or some other species. “Somehow it got labeled as soy oil and then got used as feed. The farmer had no idea it was Lascadoil.”

Last spring, an M-live investigator identified the network of farms and reported that an FDA spokesperson said the exposed hogs were sent to slaughter in October 2014, after a 28-day waiting period was implemented to reduce the levels of residue in the hogs’ meat before entering the human food supply.

The lasalocid contamination quietly spread across at least eight states, according to the MSFC, adding that public disclosure was not forthcoming and sample tests for lasalocid weren’t conducted by MDARD on the meat after slaughter. MDARD’s investigation found that, in all, over 100 farms actually received either contaminated feed or oil.

The FDA sent a warning letter to Shur-Green Farms, which recycles food waste into nutritionally acceptable animal feed and was determined to be distributing the oil and feed to customers. The warning letter indicated that Shur-Green informed an FDA investigator that a tanker which Shur-Green represented as soy oil from a food manufacturer “was one of the tankers dedicated for transport of lascadoil waste.” According to the same letter, tests on animal feed from Shur-Green contained lasalocid concentrations up to 1642 parts per million.

A Department of Health and Human Services record asserts that on September 16, 2014, almost two weeks after allegedly being told to incinerate the remaining oil, Shur-Green still sold the waste byproduct to a company that manufactures animal feed. Shur-Green alternately asserted that they were never even notified of a contamination issue until September 19, 2015. Nearly a month later, Shur-Green issued a recall of the oil.

During the course of a multi-agency investigation, Shur-Green sent out an FOIA request to the FDA which revealed a letter from the Department of Health and Human Services to a company called Glycerin Traders which indicated that the oil was sold by Glycerin Traders to be used in animal feed at least as far back as February 2014, raising concerns that prior to the recall in October 2014, other livestock may have consumed the contaminant, sent to slaughter, and consequently used for human consumption.

A Zoetis quarterly report published online disclosed more information about the investigation into the 2014 lasalocid contamination that was reportedly ongoing. That report states that the FDA identified some Zoetis products as a potential source of the contamination. The quarterly report states that an inspection by the FDA “found no evidence that Zoetis was involved in the contamination of the animal feed.”

Nevertheless, a lawsuit was filed last March by Restaurant Recycling and Superior Feed Ingredients against Shur-Green Farms alleging that Shur-Green’s soy oil was contaminated with lascadoil. The complaint, filed in the 17th Circuit Court for the State of Michigan, also named Zoetis as a defendant in the complaint, according to a Zoetis annual report. Restaurant Recycling and Superior Feeds Ingredients alleged that Zoetis shared responsibility. Zoetis denied all allegations and all liability.

Not long after, another lawsuit was filed by multiple parties claiming that prior to the discovery of contamination, about 129,000 pounds of White Acres meat was sent to food producers, resulting in over 900,000 pounds of turkey products that were processed, but the complaint states that none of the products ever reached the end consumer or made it into the human food supply.

MSFC sent MDARD a FOIA request trying to learn results of any tests for lasalocid in meat samples. January 26, 2016, MDARD revealed to the MSFC that no test results could be released by MDARD, because no food samples were tested for lasalocid by MDARD in 2014 or 2015. The response also stated, “For your information, the turkeys exposed to the feed did not enter the food chain,” and referred MSFC to the USDA for more information.

The Council says these tests should have been performed by MDARD on the meat products from farmers who purchased the oil or contaminated feed, and that the absence of both testing and disclosure demonstrates another case of a lack of transparency within the Snyder administration.

MSFC further states that the only public notification of the widespread lasalocid contamination was at a meeting of the Michigan Agriculture Commission and that no press release or public announcement was ever made after that meeting. That meeting was held in January of 2015, months after MDARD was aware of the potential for exposure.

“The names of the other farms that received the contaminated feed were not disclosed, nor was there an accounting of what actions were taken at those farms in regards to food safety. It’s currently unknown what impact this has had on public health.”

MSFC President Wendy Lockwood Banka says that she was present when Averill revealed the details of the widespread contamination at the January 2015 meeting. An article published in Feed Navigator claims that the meeting of the Michigan Agriculture Commission reporting on the investigation months later was the administration’s first public disclosure. Banka called it the “only public disclosure of this contamination incident.” Banka says she waited for a press release to the public explaining the situation in detail, but ended up having to use FOIA to gather the information she says that she has learned.

Banka says she also expected a news story about the widespread contamination, because reporters for both MIRS (a legislative and political information service for Michigan) and Gongwer (an Ohio legislative reporting service) were present at the meeting. MIRS and Gongwer are subscription-based services with clients such as political leaders, Fortune 500 companies, lobbyists, and universities. Although both reported on other items on the agenda from that meeting, neither reported the information disclosed at the meeting about the contamination.

Banka says that the lasalocid contamination issue should have been shared with the public and that consumers had a right to know about it.

“The first press release should have been in August of 2014 when the 50,000 turkey mortalities occurred, with a second press release in September when it was understood that 20,000 hogs had also been fed high levels of lasalocid, and a third when the investigation showed that the contamination had spread to more than 100 farms in at least 8 states. This level of disclosure would have been inconvenient since at the time Governor Snyder was engaged in a close re-election battle, and since MDARD would have had to prioritize food safety over its many other conflicting duties.”

Deaths due to lasalocid toxicosis in cattle have been well documented and were preceded by increased respiratory and heart rates and watery diarrhea in toxicity experiments. Scientists have found that in dogs, as little as 10 to 15 ppm of lasalocid in food causes neuromuscular effects, according to the International Journal of Environmental Health Research. In Australia, the upper limit of lasalocid permitted is one microgram per kilogram of human bodyweight (1 µg/kg). The FDA says that different species react differently, and that it can be fatal in horses.

“It seems important to note that the lasalocid contamination poses risks not only to the farms involved, but also to those who consume meat and eggs from affected animals. Lasalocid is known to accumulate in eggs and tissues when fed to chickens, for example, and so might reasonably be expected to be in the meat and eggs of the birds that are fed this drug. This is testable,” says a report in Sustainable Farm Policy, adding that unfortunately, MDARD, under Gov. Snyder’s administration, “failed to test any food samples in 2014 or 2015 for lasalocid, despite their knowledge of widespread contamination of animal feed with this drug.”

A February 2015 issue of Farm World reported that its reporter asked Averill why MDARD didn’t issue a press release about the major contamination event. Averill reportedly said that federal officials were the lead investigators, while MDARD was just one member of the multi-agency investigative team. At that time, Averill said, “Hopefully in the very near future we’ll have more answers that we can share.”

MSFC says that a year later, MDARD has still not issued a press release on the contamination, even though, according to the Farm World interview, Averill said at that time that there was a potential that some of the pigs that ate the contaminated feed could have entered the human food chain. Averill did say that he would have fed such hogs to his family, and that it was not seen as a public health issue.

“Governor Snyder and MDARD may not consider this story worthy of a press release, but we disagree,” the MSFC wrote, arguing that the State of Michigan had an obligation to disclose such contamination to Michigan consumers, given that they could have been exposed to a contaminant that the Council says poses a potential human risk.

[Image via Pixabay]