10/31/2008, 00.00
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Melamine, staple food for Chinese animals

Official media acknowledge routine use of melamine in animal feed, because it is inexpensive and makes foods seem to be highly nutritious. Now the question is how much of it there is in meat and vegetables. An "open secret," even though everyone had denied it until now.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - It is an "open secret" that melamine, which is toxic for human beings, is regularly added to animal feed, as the official Chinese state media have acknowledged. Now the question is the extent of contamination in animal products, from meat (poultry, pork, but also farmed fish), to eggs, to milk and dairy products. It is also being asked how this evident truth is emerging only now.

The state-run China Daily today observes: "The fact that melamine has been found in eggs produced by different chicken farms suggests that the contamination cannot be an accidental case. As is being suggested, the feed industry seems to have acquiesced to agree on using the chemical to reduce production cost while maintaining the protein count for quality inspections. We cannot say for sure if the same chemical has made its way into other types of food."

Yesterday, the Nanfang Daily noted that the widespread use of the substance in animal feed, because of its low cost, is an "open secret," and "the effect far exceeds the milk powder scandal." The state news agency Xinhua and the official communist party newspaper People's Daily have confirmed the news. The Associated Press has interviewed the manager of an animal feed factory in Henan who says, under anonymity, that it "it's very common that feed for egg-laying hens contains melamine. The suppliers add it because their ingredients for the feed are sold at a low price."

There has been no official response from the authorities.

Melamine, which is used to produce plastic, has a chemical structure very similar to that of protein, and makes food appear more nutritious than it is. In 2007, it was found in dog and cat food exported to the United States and Canada, and caused the deaths of dozens of animals. 60 million packages of dog food were recalled. Ji Denghui, director general of the Fujian Sanming Dinghui Chemical Company, confirmed to the New York Times that "Many companies buy melamine scrap to make animal feed, such as fish feed. I don’t know if there’s a regulation on it. Probably not."

At that time, Beijing replied that its products were safe, and that in any case inspections had been stepped up. Now everyone is asking how melamine was never discovered in food products, in spite of its widespread use.

The melamine scandal erupted in September, when it was found in fresh and powdered milk and in many dairy products. It is also been found in egg powder (widely used in pastry production) and in fresh eggs from at least four companies from far-ranging provinces. In both cases, the local authorities suppressed the news, which later emerged in other ways.

More than 53,000 infants suffered kidney damage after consuming these milk products (and four have died). 2,390 are still in the hospital, and new hospitalizations continue: there were 90 on October 29 alone.

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See also
Beijing, after milk, melamine in soy milk, too
Leading Chinese milk brand accused of causing cancer
China, poisoned milk: death penalty for those who break the law
Chinese health minister: food safety situation "grim"
Those responsible for melamine-contaminated milk risk death penalty


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