Read on for the original article, posted here Sunday. Note that my two highlighted sentences at the beginning of the post - including the reference to "wheat, corn, soybean or other proteins" are both missing from the 'final' article.
All along, I was waiting, hoping and praying for the media that sets the trends — primarilly the New York Times — to realize that this wasn’t “just” a pet-food story, that it had bigger implications for the human food supply, for global trade, international relations and more.
More than six weeks after the first recall, it’s finally there. The aforementioned New York Times piece (the now you see it, now you don’t … oh, look! it’s back story) is back, and on the front page. No matter the changes from first version to last: It’s still a dramatic and important piece on the decisions we have to make as a country to ensure our food supply is safe, both from people who operate with a bottom-line priority and those who would exploit the flaws in our inspection system and regulations to harm us intentionally.
...I suspect in the days and weeks to come we’ll see this move into the media big-time as the larger story it always was.
And now we head into full-fledged crisis mode (Not that *we* haven't been there already, but now everyone will realize it.) (Thanks for the article Mike!)
For years animal feed sellers have been able to cheat buyers by blending the powder into feed with little regulatory supervision, according to interviews with melamine scrap traders and agricultural workers here.Let me repeat that. Wheat, Corn, SOYBEAN or OTHER proteins.
"... a pair of 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"
Feed sellers in China routinely use protein substitute
ZHANGQIU, China: American food safety regulators trying to figure out how an industrial chemical called melamine contaminated so much pet food in the United States might come to this heavily polluted city in Shandong Province in the northern part of the country.
Here at the Shandong Mingshui Great Chemical Group factory, huge boiler vats are turning coal into melamine, which is used to create plastics and fertilizer.
But the leftover melamine scrap, small acorn-sized chunks of white rock, is then being sold to local entrepreneurs, who say they secretly mix a powdered form of the scrap into animal feed to artificially enhance the protein level.
The melamine powder has been dubbed "fake protein" and is used to deceive those who raise animals into thinking they are buying feed that provides higher nutrition value.
"It just saves money," says a manager at an animal feed factory here. "Melamine scrap is added to animal feed to boost the protein level."
The practice is widespread in China. For years animal feed sellers have been able to cheat buyers by blending the powder into feed with little regulatory supervision, according to interviews with melamine scrap traders and agricultural workers here.
But now, melamine is at the center of a massive, multinational pet food recall after it was linked earlier this month to the deaths and injuries of thousands of cats and dogs in the United States and South Africa.
No one knows exactly how melamine - which had not been believed to be particularly toxic - became so fatal in pet food, but its presence in any form of American food is illegal....
The huge pet food recall is raising questions in the United States about regulatory controls at a time when food supplies are increasingly being sourced globally. Some experts complain that the FDA is understaffed and underfunded, making it incapable of safeguarding America's food supply.
"They have fewer people inspecting product at the ports than ever before," says Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington. "Until China gets programs in place to verify the safety of their products, they need to be inspected by U.S. inspectors. This open-door policy on food ingredients is an open invitation for an attack on the food supply, either intentional or unintentional."
The pet food case is also putting China's agricultural exports under greater scrutiny because the country's dubious food safety record and history of excessive antibiotic and pesticide use.
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.
China's government disputes any suggestion that melamine from the country could have killed pets. But Friday, regulators here banned the use of melamine in vegetable proteins made for export or for use in domestic food supplies.
Yet it is clear from visiting this region of northern 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 advertise on the Internet seeking to purchase melamine scrap. And melamine scrap producers and traders said in recent interviews that they often sell to animal feed makers.
"Many companies buy melamine scrap to make animal feed, such as fish feed," says Ji Denghui, general manager of the Fujian Sanming Dinghui Chemical Company. "I don't know if there's a regulation on it. Probably not. No law or regulation says 'don't do it,' so everyone's doing it. The laws in China are like that, aren't they? If there's no accident, there won't be any regulation."Most local feed companies do not admit that they use melamine. But last Friday here in Zhangqiu, a fast-growing industrial city southeast of Beijing, a pair of 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, whose chemical properties give a bag of animal feed an inflated protein level under standard tests.
Melamine is the new scam of choice, they say, because urea - another nitrogen-rich chemical that works similarly - is illegal for use in pig and poultry feed and can be easily tested for in China as well as the United States.
"If you add it in small quantities, it won't hurt the animals," said one animal feed entrepreneur whose name is being withheld to protect him from prosecution.
The man - who works in a small animal feed operation that consists of a handful of storage and mixing areas - said he has mixed melamine into animal feed for years.
He said he was not currently using melamine, which is actually made from urea. But he then pulled out a plastic bag containing what he said was melamine powder and said he could dye it any color.
Asked whether he could create an animal feed and melamine brew, he said yes, he has access to huge supplies of melamine. Using melamine-spiked pet food ingredient was not a problem, he said, even thought the product would be weak in protein.
"Pets are not like pigs or chickens," he said casually, explaining that cheating them on protein won't matter. "They don't need to grow fast."
The feed seller makes a heftier profit because the substitute melamine scrap is much cheaper than purchasing soy, wheat or corn protein.
"It's true you can make a lot more profit by putting melamine in," said a second animal feed seller here in Zhangqiu. "Melamine will cost you about $1.20 per ton for each protein count whereas real protein costs you about $6, so you can see the difference."
Few people outside of agriculture know about melamine here. The Chinese media, which is strictly censored, has not reported much about melamine or the pet food recall overseas. And no one in agriculture here seems to believe that melamine is particularly harmful to animals or pets in small doses.
A man named Jing, who works in the sales department at the Shandong Mingshui Great Chemical Group, said Friday that melamine scrap prices had been rising but he was not aware of how the company's product was being 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."
If it's in pet food, I'm sure it's in human food. So,I’ll make it even worse. From yesterday’s FDA release… http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2007/NEW01620.html
“At this time, we have no evidence of harm to humans associated with the processed pork product, and therefore no recall of meat products processed from these animals is being issued. Testing and the joint investigation continue. If any evidence surfaces to indicate there is harm to humans, the appropriate action will be taken.”
Okay, so, humans eat pork from hogs that ate melamine. But since they don't know if it harms humans, they're not going to do anything about it.
Taking that one step further, if melamine is (directly) in human foods (and I’m sure it is), the FDA won’t recall it, based on this. NICE.
Check out the San Jose Mercury News editorial today
INSPECTIONS, STANDARDS NEEDED FOR GROWING IMPORTS FROM CHINAThe pet food crisis is forcing Americans to face a stomach-wrenching fact: The human food supply is little or no better protected than food for our dogs and cats.
That's true even of domestic products, as we learned from the spinach contamination in September, but even more so of imports from countries with lower food safety standards.
Who should be worried? Only those planning to continue eating.
(click the link for the rest)
Added 7:45pm: The original article above was originally titled "Feed sellers in China using melamine for years". At some point this morning the title was changed to "Additive that tainted U.S. pet food is commonly used in China". Now, the article is no longer available. We're trying to find out why.Here's another article, based on the first one.
Chicago Tribune and the International Herald Tribune today announced that the practice of adding melamine to food for pets is common in China and has been going on for years.
Factories in China use coal to create melamine, which is later sold to be used in plastics and as an industrial fertilizer. The leftover scraps of melamine, usually small chunks, are sold to local businesses who turn the chunks into powder and add it to animal feed to raise the nitrogen level of the feed. Since the protein content of the feed is measured by measuring the nitrogen levels in the feed this makes it appear that the feed has more protein in it than it actually contains. This also boosts the price that the Chinese businesses can charge, since retailers will pay more for "premium" food that contains more protein. One pet food manufacturer who spoke on condition of anonymity said ""If you add it in small quantities, it won't hurt the animals," and that he has been mixing melamine in his product for years.
There is almost no food safety and standards regulation in China, and factory workers and managers interviewed by the Western press admit that spiking pet food with melamine to boost the price is a common and widespread practice. While apparently this practice has been going on for a long time, investigators are still trying to find the cause of the most recent crisis where pet food spiked with melamine killed thousands of pets and made thousands more critically ill.
In response, the FDA has banned all imports of pet food ingredients from China indefinitely. The Department of Agriculture started its' own investigation last week when it quarantined 6,000 hogs around the country who tested positive for melamine after being fed salvaged pet food. It's reported that 45 people have eaten pork products containing melamine, but none have reported any serious illness as a consequence of the tainted food.
The recall started with pet food manufacturing giant Menu Foods, who produced food for most of the major pet food brands in the US. In sworn testimony before a Federal investigative committee last week the President of Menu Foods said that Menu Foods was aware of a problem with their food but did not issue a recall and in fact did not issue a recall until one of their customers, Iams brand pet food, told Menu Food that they had received complaints and that even if Menu Foods was not going to do a recall that Iams was planning one and would no longer do business with Menu Foods. Iams recall forced Menu Foods to go public with the information that there was a problem with the food they produced.
US pet owners, horrified by the lack of regulation that has led to the deaths and illness of so many beloved pets, have mobilized quickly thanks to an Internet campaign and the efforts of Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) who has written legislation calling for more Federal oversight and regulation of the pet food manufacturing industry and has spoken out publicly calling for the FDA to do a better job inspecting food ingredients imported from other countries.
Added Monday 8:55am Here's another similar article from The Canadian Press
BEIJING (AP) - The mildly toxic chemical melamine is commonly added to animal feed in China, a manager of a feed company and one of the chemical's producers said Monday, a process that boosts the feed's sales value but risks introducing the chemical into meat eaten by humans.
Customers either don't know or aren't concerned about the practice, said Wang Jianhui, manager of the Kaiyuan Protein Feed company in the northern city of Shijiazhuang.
"We've been running the melamine feed business for about 15 years and receiving positive responses from our customers," Wang said in a telephone interview.
"Using the proper quantity of melamine will not harm the animals. Our products are very safe, for sure," Wang said.