Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Melamine Awareness, Updated

I thought melamine meant those old-fashioned plastic plates that didn't break if you dropped them on the floor. Maybe so, but recently it has been in the news because it is a product that in chemical form, among other effects, causes food tests for protein to indicate false postives.
Update: It seems the use of melamine as a filler and cheap food additive is commonplace in China. See addendum at the end of this post.


Yummy! More protein!
It also causes kidney damage and death.

Melamine made the news a week or so ago because it was found in pet foods that were being recalled.
It's a story in progress, but melamine seems to have been fed to hogs as well.
Chickens, too.
And you know who eats ham and chicken...

Melamine is an organic compound that is often combined with formaldehyde to produce melamine resin, a synthetic polymer which is fire resistant and heat tolerant. Melamine resin is a very versatile material with a highly stable structure. Uses for melamine include whiteboards, floor tiles, kitchenware, fire retardant fabrics, and commercial filters. Melamine can be easily molded while warm, but will set into a fixed form. This property makes it ideally suited to certain industrial applications.
Aside from common commercial uses, melamine became a topic of much discussion in early 2007, when veterinary scientists determined it to be the cause of hundreds of pet deaths, because of pet food contamination. Prior to these reports, melamine had been regarded as non-toxic or minimally toxic. However, because of the unexplained presence of melamine in wheat gluten added to mass-produced dog and cat foods, it is the most likely cause. Pet owners report symptoms that are commonly associated with renal failure, which could be explained by the ammonia that may result from the digestion of the melamine.

What is Melamine? by Wise Geek

A nitrogen-rich chemical used to make plastic and sometimes as a fertilizer may have been deliberately added to an ingredient in pet food that has sickened and killed cats and dogs across the country, public and private officials say. A leading theory is that it was added to fake higher protein levels.

Melamine has been found in wheat gluten, rice protein concentrate and, in South Africa, corn gluten, all imported from China, and all meant for use in pet food, the Food and Drug Administration confirmed Thursday.

USA Today (here's an interesting date stamp: 5d 8h ago)

Melamine, the additive suspected in the deaths of pets around the country, was in food given to hogs and chickens in several states, and the Food and Drug Administration is trying to determine if the animals entered the human food supply, FDA officials said Tuesday.

Several thousand hogs have been quarantined and are being tested. The affected farms are in North Carolina, South Carolina, California, New York, Utah and possibly Ohio. A poultry farm in Missouri is also under investigation.

Hog urine has tested positive for melamine in several of those states after it was determined that the animals ate salvaged pet food that originated in factories that produced the tainted food. It is a common practice in the United States to take pet food that does not meet quality standards and reconstitute it into livestock feed, Stephen Sundlof, the FDA's chief veterinarian, said in a conference call with reporters.

Sarah Abruzzese of the New York Times, Times Argus

Across America, thousands of dogs and cats have been sickened or killed by dangerous ingredients contained in the foods that stock our nation's pet food stores.

It's made killing your pet as easy as laying out a generous bowl of food.

And this is more than a pet food story. It's become a story about the dangers posed by the food humans eat every day.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration revealed that melamine -- the industrial chemical killing pets -- had made it into hog food in six states and a poultry farm in Missouri. So the question now becomes whether this chemical is also in our pork and our chicken.

Even more disturbing: There is no official word on how melamine got into our food supplies in the first place.

Marcos Bretón, Sacramento Bee

Nancy Lungren of the California Department of Food and Agriculture says meat samples have been taken from some pigs that were slaughtered at the farm. That meat is being analyzed for traces of melamine. Melamine is the chemical suspected of killing and sickening dogs and cats acrouss the United States. Officials of the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration believe that the food was spiked in China with wheat glutens, corn glutens and rice proteins in an effort to boost profits. And those glutens and rice proteins were contaminated with melamine, a chemical used in plastics and some rodent poisons and pesticides. Some critics now question the safety of other imported food products.

KOIN News, Portland

Lots more at the links. More than you want to know.

The free market's a great place, don't you think?
If government would just stand aside and let the marketplace work things out everything would be all better.



Addendum, May 2
From the NY Times

ZHANGQIU, China, April 28 — As American food safety regulators head to China to investigate how a chemical made from coal found its way into pet food that killed dogs and cats in the United States, workers in this heavily polluted northern city openly admit that the substance is routinely added to animal feed as a fake protein.
For years, producers of animal feed all over China have secretly supplemented their feed with the substance, called melamine, a cheap additive that looks like protein in tests, even though it does not provide any nutritional benefits, according to melamine scrap traders and agricultural workers here.

The pet food case is also putting China’s agricultural exports under greater scrutiny because the country has had a terrible food safety record.

In recent years, for instance, China’s food safety scandals have involved everything from fake baby milk formulas and soy sauce made from human hair to instances where cuttlefish were soaked in calligraphy ink to improve their color and eels were fed contraceptive pills to make them grow long and slim.

For its part, Chinese officials dispute any suggestion that melamine from the country could have killed pets. But regulators here on Friday banned the use of melamine in vegetable proteins made for export or for use in domestic food supplies.

Yet what is clear from visiting this region of northeast China is that for years melamine has been quietly mixed into Chinese animal feed and then sold to unsuspecting farmers as protein-rich pig, poultry and fish feed.

Many animal feed operators here advertise on the Internet, seeking to purchase melamine scrap. The Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Company, one of the companies that American regulators named as having shipped melamine-tainted wheat gluten to the United States, had posted such a notice on the Internet last March.

Here at the Shandong Mingshui Great Chemical Group factory, huge boiler vats are turning coal into melamine, which is then used to create plastics and fertilizer.

But the leftover melamine scrap, golf ball-size chunks of white rock, is sometimes being sold to local agricultural entrepreneurs, who say they mix a powdered form of the scrap into animal feed to deceive those who raise animals into thinking they are buying feed that is high in protein.
“It just saves money if you add melamine scrap,” said the manager of an animal feed factory here.

Last Friday here in Zhangqiu, a fast-growing industrial city southeast of Beijing, two animal feed producers explained in great detail how they purchase low-grade wheat, corn, soybean or other proteins and then mix in small portions of nitrogen-rich melamine scrap, whose chemical properties help the feed register an inflated protein level.

Melamine is the new scam of choice, they say, because urea — another nitrogen-rich chemical — is illegal for use in pig and poultry feed and can be easily detected in China as well as in the United States.

“People use melamine scrap to boost nitrogen levels for the tests,” said the manager of the animal feed factory. “If you add it in small quantities, it won’t hurt the animals.”

The manager, who works at a small animal feed operation here that consists of a handful of storage and mixing areas, said he has mixed melamine scrap into animal feed for years.

He said he was not currently using melamine. But he then pulled out a plastic bag containing what he said was melamine powder and said he could dye it any color to match the right feed stock.

He said that melamine used in pet food would probably not be harmful. “Pets are not like pigs or chickens,” he said casually, explaining that they can afford to eat less protein. “They don’t need to grow fast.”

The resulting melamine-tainted feed would be weak in protein, he acknowledged, which means the feed is less nutritious.

But, by using the melamine additive, the feed seller makes a heftier profit because melamine scrap is much cheaper than soy, wheat or corn protein.

“It’s true you can make a lot more profit by putting melamine in,” said another animal feed seller here in Zhangqiu. “Melamine will cost you about $1.20 for each protein count per ton whereas real protein costs you about $6, so you can see the difference.”

Feed producers who use melamine here say the tainted feed is often shipped to feed mills in the Yangtze River Delta, near Shanghai, or down to Guangdong Province, near Hong Kong. They also said they knew that some melamine-laced feed had been exported to other parts of Asia, including South Korea, North Korea, Indonesia and Thailand.

Evidence is mounting that Chinese protein exports have been tainted with melamine and that its use in agricultural regions like this one is widespread. But the government has issued no recall of any food or feed product here in China.

Indeed, few people outside the agriculture business know about the use of melamine scrap. The Chinese news media — which is strictly censored — has not reported much about the country’s ties to the pet food recall in the United States. And few in agriculture here do not see any harm in using melamine in small doses; they simply see it as cheating a little on protein, not harming animals or pets.

As for the sale of melamine scrap, it is increasingly popular as a fake ingredient in feed, traders and workers here say.

At the Hebei Haixing Insect Net Factory in nearby Hebei Province, which makes animal feed, a manager named Guo Qingyin said: “In the past melamine scrap was free, but the price has been going up in the past few years. Consumption of melamine scrap is probably bigger than that of urea in the animal feed industry now.”

And so melamine producers like the ones here in Zhangqiu are busy.

A man named Jing, who works in the sales department at the Shandong Mingshui Great Chemical Group factory here, said on Friday that prices have been rising, but he said that he had no idea how the company’s melamine scrap is used.

“We have an auction for melamine scrap every three months,” he said. “I haven’t heard of it being added to animal feed. It’s not for animal feed.”


Washington Journal had a segment this morning which was very informative.
The interested reader will find lots to think about watching this segment when it becomes available in the archives.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Apparently the shock comes to me that it's not just China that uses it.