20-million chickens held from market

Published May 5, 2007

WASHINGTON - Federal officials on Friday placed a hold on 20-million chickens raised for market in several states because their feed was mixed with pet food containing an industrial chemical.

The Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are overseeing a risk assessment to determine whether the chickens would pose a threat to human health, USDA spokesman Keith Williams said. The assessment may be completed as early as Monday.

The 20-million birds represent a tiny fraction of the 9-billion raised each year in the United States. Meat from the birds can't go into commercial use without the USDA's inspection seal, which is being withheld until the risk assessment is done, Williams said.

Which states are affected by the hold will be disclosed later, Williams said.

Investigators have found that about 5 percent of feed used at some smaller chicken production operations contains the chemical melamine, Williams said. Larger manufacturers, because they usually use special feed, are unlikely to have exposed their animals to large amounts of the tainted pet products, he said.

As of Friday, no melamine had been detected in the feed used by larger manufacturers, Williams said.