Friday, October 31, 2008

Tainted milk and eggs: What next?

Oct 31, 2008

Melamine often added to animal feed: Chinese press

BEIJING: Animal feed producers in China commonly add the industrial chemical melamine to their products to make them appear higher in protein content, state media reported yesterday.

The latest revelation may be an indication that the scope of the country's latest food safety scandal could extend beyond milk and eggs.

The practice of mixing melamine into animal feed is an 'open secret' in the industry, the Nanfang Daily reported in an article that was republished on the websites of the official Xinhua News Agency and the People's Daily.

Publicising such a problem is rare in the Chinese media and appears to be a tacit admission by China's central government that melamine contamination is widespread.

The news comes after four brands of Chinese eggs were found to be tainted with melamine. Agriculture officials say the contamination could have been due to tainted feed given to hens.

The discovery of the tainted eggs followed on the heels of a similar crisis involving compromised dairy products that landed tens of thousands of children in the hospital and was linked to the deaths of four infants in China.

The Ministry of Health said on Wednesday that 2,390 children remained hospitalised after drinking tainted milk.

That scandal was triggered by dairy suppliers who added melamine, a chemical used to make plastics and fertiliser, to watered-down milk in order to pass quality control tests and make the product appear rich in protein.

Health experts say ingesting a small amount of melamine poses no danger, but in larger doses, it can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure.

Chemical plants used to pay companies to treat and dispose of excess melamine. But about five years ago, they began selling it to manufacturers who repackaged it as 'protein powder', the Nanfang Daily report said, citing an unnamed chemical industry expert.

Melamine is high in nitrogen, and most protein tests zoom in on nitrogen levels. The inexpensive powder was first used to give the impression of higher protein levels in aquatic feed, then later in feed for livestock and poultry, the report said.

'The effect far more exceeds the milk powder scandal,' the newspaper said.

In the past week, melamine has been discovered in at least four brands of Chinese eggs. No one has fallen ill yet.

China's leading egg processor, Dalian Hanwei Enterprise Group, was among the companies found to have tainted eggs, which were first identified by Hong Kong food safety regulators.

The company's website said that, besides the domestic and Hong Kong markets, its egg products are exported to Japan and countries in South-east Asia.

The government in Dalian, in the north-eastern Liaoning province, has said it was first alerted to the problem of melamine-tainted eggs on Sept 27. But it did not explain the delay in reporting the problem.

Chinese media alleged that the Liaoning authorities kept quiet about the melamine-tainted eggs for weeks and ordered a media blackout to cover up the problem.

The milk scandal was similarly covered up for months before it emerged last month.

The animal sanitation inspection department of Liaoning suspected the tainted Hanwei eggs came from chicken feed and ordered an investigation into the Mingxing Feed Company as early as Oct 6, the Beijing News said.

Police have now taken into custody the manager of the Mingxing Feed Company, said the report, citing the manager of the Hanwei Group.

Earlier this week, the Hong Kong government also detected the chemical in two other brands of Chinese eggs.

Hong Kong's government said yesterday it is in talks with Chinese officials over a proposal to certify eggs from the mainland as melamine-free.


[So going back to the tainted milk - was the milk tainted by the middle men diluting the milk and adding melamine to up the "protein" score, or was the melamine fed to cows as tainted feed and which ended up in the milk? Or both? But as cows would eat grass or grain, these feed do not need "protein enrichment", so the original theory may be true - middle men tainted the milk.

I wonder what happens if a melamine tainted egg were fertilised? Do we end up with a pokemon? Literally a pocket monster?]

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