Gee, you think?
Melamine in big demand inBy Niu Shuping and Lucy Hornby
as a feed additive China
BEIJING (Reuters) - Melamine is so popular as a protein lookalike feed additive that at least one Chinese manufacturer is believed to have torn down buildings to get to leftover scraps, industry officials said on Monday.
Melamine, used in making plastic and fertilizers, was blamed for killing pets in the United States and South America last month after it was found in wheat gluten and rice protein exported from China for use in pet food.
More than 100 brands of pet food were recalled, triggering a round of finger-pointing among pet food suppliers in the U.S. China last week said it would ban melamine-tainted protein products from export and from domestic markets.Melamine scrap is believed to be commonly mixed in animal feed in China to artificially boost the protein level, especially in soymeal, tricking feedlots and farmers into paying more for feed for chickens and pigs.
"The chemical plant next to us used the melamine scrap as waste for landfill and built houses on it. Then they tore down the buildings to get the scrap once the price rose," said a manager with Tai'an Yongfeng Feedmill Co. Ltd in the coastal province of Shandong.
"It is a very popular business here. I know people have been mixing this since 1991."
"For every percent of protein you gain, you can make 55 yuan. So if you can turn 38 percent protein soymeal into 43 percent meal, you can make more than 200 yuan per tonne," said the manager.
"Feed mills usually have poor equipment and they cannot detect the chemical through tests, not even the big mills."
"Fake" soymeal products were widely sold in Hebei and Shandong provinces, the manager said.
"I never heard of this stuff. But in general, chemical products shouldn't be put in animal feed, that's very dangerous," said Xie Hong, executive vice president of Sichuan Southhope Industry Co., China's biggest feed producer and controlling stakeholder in Liuhe Group, the country's largest poultry producer based in Shandong.
Beijing has issued no regulations to ban the use of the chemical in feed, said a China Feed Industry Association official. He denied any knowledge of use of the additive in feed.But an official at the Shandong Mingshui Great Chemical Group, which produces urea for fertilizer, said all of its melamine scrap was sold to companies to boost the nitrogen content in their feed products.
"They add very small amount of melamine scrap to the feed, which does not lead to mass deaths of animals. But a few here and there might react," said the manager at the Shandong feedmill, who had not heard that the product had been linked to pet deaths overseas.
"It might be another story for pets though."
Added 10:50am For more, read David Goldstein's post in The Huffington Post
Melamine-Spiking "Widespread" In China; Human Food Broadly Contaminated
Who knows what kind of shit is adulterating our imported and domestic food supply? But whatever it is, it's about to hit the fan.
Months after dogs and cats started dropping dead of renal failure from melamine-tainted pet food, American consumers are beginning to learn how long and how wide this contaminant has also poisoned the human food supply.Last week, as California officials revealed that at least 45 people are known to have eaten tainted pork, the USDA announced that it would pay farmers millions of dollars to destroy and dispose of thousands of hogs fed "salvaged" pet food.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Through the salvaging practice, melamine-tainted pet food has likely contaminated America's livestock for as long as it has been killing and sickening America's pets -- as far back as August of 2006, or even earlier. And while it may seem alarmist to suggest without absolute proof that Americans have been eating melamine-tainted pork, chicken and farm-raised fish for the better part of a year, the FDA and USDA seem to be preparing to brace Americans for the worst. In an unusual, Saturday afternoon joint press release, the regulators tasked with protecting the safety of our nation's food supply go to convoluted lengths to reassure the public that eating melamine-tainted pork is perfectly safe.
In a fit of reverse-homeopathy the press release steps us through the dilution process, tracing the path of melamine-tainted rice protein through the food system. The rice protein is a partial ingredient in pet food, we are told, which is itself only a partial ingredient in the feed given to hogs, who then "excrete" some of the melamine in their urine. And, "even if present in pork," they reassure us, "pork is only a small part of the average American diet."
How comforting. But the press release reaches its Orwellian best in its insistence that there is no evidence of any "human illness" due to melamine exposure:"While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention systems would have limited ability to detect subtle problems due to melamine and melamine-related compounds, no problems have been detected to date."
Translation: "We are unable to detect such problems, but don't worry, no such problems have been detected."
It is hard to read this as anything but a preemptive press release, a calculated effort to reassure the public that it is safe to eat trace quantities of melamine... just days before they inevitably reveal that Americans have in fact been consuming it unawares for months. Menu Foods, the company at the center of the controversy, has recalled product dating back to November 8, 2006. Manufacturing forty to fifty percent of America's wet pet food, the salvaged product from their massive operations must have surely contaminated livestock feed nationwide.
And it gets worse. Tomorrow the New York Times will report from China, detailing how nitrogen-rich melamine scrap, produced from coal, is routinely ground into powder and mixed into low-grade wheat, corn, soybean or other proteins to inflate the protein analysis of animal feed:
"The practice is widespread in China," the Times reports, and has been going on "for years." And it is not just wheat, corn, rice and soybean proteins that should be suspect, but the animals who feed on it, including all imported Chinese pork, poultry, farm-raised fish, and their various by-products.
Despite FDA and USDA efforts to allay concerns about consuming melamine-tainted meat, the health effects are unstudied, and the permissible level is zero. If China could impose a three-year (and counting) ban on the import of U.S. beef after a single incident of Mad Cow disease, then surely the U.S. would be justified in imposing a ban on Chinese vegetable protein and livestock products due to such a prevalent, industrywide contamination.
And if in the coming weeks this ban is finally imposed, the question we must ask government regulators is... why so late? Why did they wait until our children licked the last remaining drop of bacon fat off their fingers before alerting the public to the potential health risk, however low? It seems inconceivable that the regulators tasked with overseeing the safety and purity of our nation's food supply did not at least imagine the potential scope of this crisis back in early March when they first learned that Chinese wheat gluten was poisoning dogs and cats. Indeed, the very fact that they were so quick to focus in on melamine as the adulterating agent suggests they at least suspected what they were facing.
And so it begs the question as to why -- in the face of an apparent wheat gluten contamination that reportedly killed nine out of twenty dogs and cats in Menu Foods' quarterly taste test -- would FDA scientists test for melamine, a chemical widely believed to be nontoxic?
Why? Because they thought they might find it.
Lacking adequate cooperation from FDA officials one is constantly forced to speculate, but given the circumstances it is reasonable to assume that the search for melamine was prompted by the "nitrogen spiking" theory, rather than the other way around. Based on their knowledge of the evidence, Chinese agricultural practices, the globalizing food industry, and perhaps prior history, the FDA hypothesized that unscrupulous Chinese manufacturers may have intentionally adulterated low quality wheat gluten in an effort to pass it off as a high-protein, high-value product. And nothing would do the job better than melamine.
According to one synthetic organic chemist, melamine is by far the perfect candidate. It is high in nitrogen (66-percent by weight), nonvolatile (ie, it doesn't explode,) and dirt cheap. It is also -- at least according to both the scientific literature and chemical supply catalogs -- widely considered to be nontoxic. For FDA officials, the mystery never seemed to be how melamine made its way into wheat, rice and corn protein, but rather, why it was suddenly killing dogs and cats.
The technical answer may center on the unexpected interaction between melamine, cyanuric acid, and other melamine by-products, but the practical answer may be much more pedestrian. Some samples of adulterated wheat gluten reportedly tested as high as 6.6-percent melamine by weight, an off the chart concentration that was likely the accidental result of some less than thorough mixing. Had this accident never occurred -- had cats, with their sensitive renal systems, not been the canary in the coal mine of melamine toxicity -- we might never have known that our children and our pets were being slowly poisoned by Chinese capitalism.
Well, despite the FDA's best efforts, now we know.