U.S. Produced Wheat Gluten

In this day and age, it’s extremely important to know what’s in your food. Whether it’s packaged, processed add-water convenient food, or “natural” and “organic”, it’s critical to read labels – unless you want to end up “critical”. Also important, contacting every company of every product you purchase to determine if their products contain ingredients processed in the United States or overseas. I can well imagine, for most people, this is a “Yeah, as if…” proposition, and that’s a shame. The attached article details the pathetic condition of the U.S. Wheat Gluten Industry. -Sharon

Imports Erode U.S. Wheat Gluten Industry

The Associated Press
Friday, May 4, 2007; 4:29 AM

WICHITA, Kan.—Even as fears grow over contaminated imported wheat gluten in recalled pet food, U.S. production has been so eroded by low-cost imports that it can no longer supply domestic demand, domestic makers say.

Only four domestic gluten manufacturers, including two in Kansas, have survived the flood of foreign wheat gluten bought here in the last decade at prices cheaper than U.S. producers can make it.

When the United States removed quotas on gluten imports in 2000, prices plummeted by about half, said John Neufeld, chief operating officer for Dallas-based White Energy, which purchased a bankrupt wheat gluten facility in Russell, Kan.

The U.S. imports roughly 80 percent of its wheat gluten from Australia, the European Union and China, where the contaminated wheat gluten behind the recent pet food recall is believed to have originated, according to figures from the National Association of Wheat Growers. It is used primarily as an ingredient in the baking industry, in cereal and in pet food.

More than 100 brands of pet food have been recalled since March 16 because they were contaminated with melamine. An unknown number of dogs and cats have been sickened or died after eating chemical-laced pet food.

The contamination has raised alarm among industry leaders, who say the nation’s growing reliance on foreign food supplies compromises national security.

“Imagine if this was a child instead of 30,000 pets. How about 30,000 children? Would we be thinking, ‘Gosh, I am glad I saved a few cents on that loaf of bread I bought,’” said John Thaemert, a Sylvan Grove farmer and wheat growers association president.

On April 26, the government said several hundred of the 6,000 hogs that may have eaten contaminated pet food are believed to have entered the food supply for humans. The potential risk to human health was said to be very low.

The food supply chain in the U.S. is highly regulated, but those safeguards are not always in place overseas. Other countries can make low cost food products because they have lower labor costs, less expensive land and less government regulation.

Neufeld’s company estimated that the U.S. consumes about 530 million pounds of wheat gluten. Government figures show that about 386 million pounds of that wheat gluten was imported, he said.

White Energy’s wheat gluten facility in Russell sells its gluten primarily to the domestic baking industry. The facility produces 40 million pounds of wheat gluten annually, accounting for just under 8 percent of U.S. gluten consumption, Neufeld said. Its gluten plant has been running at capacity and has not been affected by the recent concerns over the imported gluten.

The nation’s largest gluten maker, MGP Ingredients Inc., is based in Atchison, Kan., with another plant in Pekin, Ill. The company has the capacity to produce 120 million pounds of gluten in a year but the plants are running at only 20 percent of that capacity, said Steve Pickman, MGP Ingredients’ vice president for corporate relations.

“We have been unable to compete effectively on a price basis with imported gluten,” he said.

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