Currently browsing posts about: Melamine

Feb 20 2013

FoodPolitics.com too political for China? Really?

My not quite son-in-law is stage managing a play in China, and writes:

I looked at the pictures of Mayor Koch and you in your kitchen last week and it worked fine.  Now I’m here in Shenzhen & Internet Explorer isn’t able to open your Blog.   See!  That’s what you get for all those nasty things you said about the Chinese baby formulas and pet foods!

I guess he’s referring to my posts on the deliberate adulteration of pet food and infant formula with melamine.  Is this site really blocked?  If so, is it really a threat to the Chinese state?

Seems far-fetched, no?  Anyone know anything about this?

Jul 16 2010

Food safety roundup

I’ve been collecting items on food safety for the last week or two. Here’s a roundup for a quiet Friday in July:

Antibiotics in animal agriculture

     USA Today does great editorial point/counterpoints and here is one from July 12 on use of antibiotics as growth promoters or as  prophylactics in farm animals and poultry.  This selects for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.   If we get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, too bad for us. 

     The paper’s editors think that use of antibiotics for these purposes is irresponsible:  Our view on food safety: To protect humans, curb antibiotic use in animals.

     Dr. Howard Hill, a veterinarian who directs the National Pork Producers Council, defends these uses of antibiotics: Don’t bar animal antibiotics.

The source of the 2006 E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak in California spinach

     USDA and UC Davis investigators are still trying to figure out how the toxic E. coli O157:H7 got onto the spinach. Investigators did not find the bacteria on the spinach field itself, but they did find it in water, cattle, and cattle feces at a cattle crossing over a stream one mile away. Leading hypotheses: runoff from that stream or wild boar.

     Subsequent studies showed low levels of E. coli 0157:H7 in wild animals and birds.  A new study confirms that just under 4% of wild boar harbor the bacteria. 

     The investigators say the spinach outbreak of 2006 was the result of a combination of circumstances: “Everybody is starting to realize that maybe unusually heavy rainfall prior to planting could be an issue in terms of where water is routed.”

     Dairy farming is moving into California’s Central Valley in a big way.  Runoff from those farms will not be sterile and growing vegetables along water routes may be risky.  Compost, anyone?

The chemical behind Kellogg’s cereal recall

     Kellogg recalled 28 million packets of breakfast cereals last month because people reported funny smells and getting sick from something in the packaging.  At first, Kellogg would not say what the chemical contaminant might be.  

     Then it said the chemical is methylnaphthalene. Mothballs! (Are they still making mothballs?  Their smell is unforgettable)

     Tom Philpott’s comments on Grist.com point out what’s really at stake: “And of course, the real scandal is what Kellogg’s is marketing to kids: a tarted-up slurry consisting mainly of sugar, corn products, partially hydrogenated oil, and food colorings. But that’s a whole different story.”

Salsa and guacamole are sources of foodborne illness

     The CDC reports that salsa and guacamole are becoming more frequent sources of contaminants leading to illness.  CDC started collecting information on sources of outbreaks in 1973.  Its first outbreak due to salsa or guacamole occurred in 1984.  Since then, there have been 136 such outbreaks.  Restaurants and delis were responsible for 84%.  Between 1984 and 1997, salsa and guacamole outbreaks accounted for 1.5% of total foodborne outbreaks.  But the percentage rose to 3.9% from 1998 to 2008.

     Moral: make your own!

China deals with melamine in milk powder

     China is taking creative steps to prevent melamine from getting into milk powder and infant formula.  To discourage fraudulent producers from boosting up the apparent level of protein in milk with melamine, it simply reduced the amount of protein required.

The latest on food irradiation

     FoodSafetyNews.com presented a two-part series on food irradiation (part 1 and part 2), both of them quite favorable to the technology. As I discuss in my book, Safe Food, I don’t have any safety ojections to food irradiation, but I consider it a late-stage techno-fix for a problem that should never have occurred in the first place.

     I conclude with my favorite quote from former USDA official Carol Tucker Foreman: “sterilized poop is still poop.”

Enjoy a safe weekend!

Jan 5 2010

Melamine in Chinese milk – again!

I thought we were finished with melamine by now, but no such luck.   Recall that we first encountered Chinese melamine (ordinarily a benign component of plastic dinnerware and countertops) as a toxic adulterant of pet food in 2007.  Melamine, it turned out, had been used for decades to boost the apparent – not actual – protein content of foods and ingredients.  It is high in nitrogen and the test for protein in foods measures nitrogen, not protein itself.

In the wake of the pet food scandal, China cracked down on food safety violations.  That did not stop use of melamine and within just a few months, it turned up in infant formula and caused a reported 300,000 Chinese babies to develop kidney problems.  Chinese authorities again dealt harshly with perpetrators, executing some and giving others long prison sentences (to catch up with this story, see previous posts).

And now here we go again, and with one of the same companies implicated in the 2008 infant formula problem – Shanghai Panda Dairy Company.  Chinese authorities are again cracking down but, as the New York Times reports, the problem seems intractable.

Why?  Maybe Chinese adulterators are getting a double message.  Here are a couple of items I picked up off Chinese news sources on the Internet (Google the names to find the sites):

  • Li Changjiang, the director of the inspection agency that failed to deal with the melamine problem, was forced to resign from the agency. He has overcome his disgrace, more or less.  He was just appointed deputy head of a major anti-pornography group.
  • Zhao Lianhai organized the parents of victims of the infant formula adulteration to try to get compensation.  He was put under house arrest in November and formally arrested in December.

Melamine is an enormous embarrassment to the Chinese and they will get a grip on it eventually, but let’s hope sooner rather than later.  In the meantime, best to avoid food products made in China that are supposed to contain protein from milk or soybeans.

Update January 6: today’s Wall Street Journal reports that Chinese authorities have known about the melamine in milk:

Tuesday, the newspaper 21st Century Business Herald reported industry participants were aware of melamine use by Shanghai Panda as early as April 2009. The paper, which didn’t identify its sources, said that in November China’s minister of health, Chen Zhu, referred to melamine tainting by the company during an internal meeting of Communist Party officials. Those comments, the newspaper reported, prompted Wenzhou-based Zhejiang Panda Dairy Products Co. in early December to announce on its Web site that, while its name was similar to Shagnhai Panda, the two companies aren’t related.

Nov 24 2009

The news from China: two executions

Remember last year’s scandal about the 300,000 Chinese infants who developed kidney disease after being fed infant formula laced with melamine?  That anyone would put melamine into infant formula was shocking on its own (although the previous year’s scandal over melamine in pet food ought to have been fair warning, as I explained in my book, Pet Food Politics).

Even more shocking is that the Sanlu infant formula company knew about problems with its milk long before it issued a recall, in part because it did not want to embarrass the country just prior to the start of the Olympic games in Beijing.

Now, Chinese authorities have executed two men deemed responsible for adding melamine to the milk powder sold to Sanlu.  The Sanlu manager was given a life jail sentence, and 18 others involved with the Sanlu company also have been jailed for up to 15 years.

One can always debate whether the punishment fits the crime but a BBC press account quotes a lawyer who laid the blame on

an inadequate regulatory system…It’s hard to understand why these people are give such harsh punishment because generally speaking… there is a lack of monitoring and regulation…It’s the food supervision and inspection authorities that are responsible for this.

Congress, take notice: pass that food safety bill now!

Feb 12 2009

Melamine in Infant Formula: clinical consequences

On February 4, the New England Journal of Medicine published four studies of the effects of melamine-adulterated infant formula on the infants unlucky enough to be fed it. Reuters has an article about the studies.

Jan 1 2009

Happy new year: Top food safety crises of 2008

Bill Marler, of the legal firm specializing in food safety cases, lists his top 10 picks for the food safety scandals of 2008, beginning with globalization and ending with pet food.

And Food Chemical News (December 31) says the FDA will be testing for melamine in farmed fish and fish feed from China.  When Hong Kong officials said they found melamine at 6.6 ppm in fish feed, the FDA wondered whether melamine could accumulate in fish tissues.  Apparently, that is exactly what it does.  The Los Angeles Times  (December 24) says FDA testing found whopping amounts of melamine – 200 ppm – in catfish, trout, tilapia and salmon that had eaten melamine-tainted fish feed.  This is way higher than the maximum “safe” level of 2.5 ppm in food.  So put fish from China on your list of what not to eat.

Let’s hope the new president picks someone for USDA undersecretary and FDA commissioner who takes food safety seriously.  That’s my wish (well, one of them) for the new year. Peace to all.

Dec 17 2008

Bookkeeping: End-of-year columns

I have an op-ed (about the FDA’s handling of melamine in U.S. infant formula) and a Food Matters column (answering questions about salt) in the San Francisco Chronicle this week, and a response to a question from Eating Liberally about Governor Paterson’s proposed tax on soft drinks.  Enjoy!

Dec 14 2008

USDA to test meat and poultry for melamine

The USDA says it will be taking samples of meat and poultry products that contain ingredients derived from milk to find out whether they contain melamine and, if so, how much.   It will be sampling five kinds of products: baby foods, cooked sausages, breaded chicken, meatballs, and meat and poultry wrapped in dough (including calzones).  Great.  I’m hoping they will be using the same kinds of methods used by FDA and coordinating closely with that agency.  If ever we needed a reason to have just ONE food safety agency instead of the multiple ones we have now (USDA, FDA, EPA, etc), melamine is as good as any.

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