Melamine: tastes like chicken

Lots of us knew melamine as a heat resistant plastic polymer found in kitchen items, like plastic plates. Despite its reputation for heat resistance it would melt in an oven, although it doesn't catch fire. It is used in a lot of other places: floor tiles, white boards, fabrics, filters, even the cleaning product called Magic Eraser. Now we know it is also used by crooked Chinese food manufacturers to make it appear their products have more protein than they really do. This works because melamine is loaded with nitrogen, also a key atom in the building blocks of proteins, amino acids.

Here is the atomic structure of melamine, whose official chemical name is 1,3,5-triazine-2,4,6-triamine:


The triazine part is the ring that has the three N's in it. The ring is really composed of 6 atoms, the three Nitrogens shown by the N's, and three carbons. The C's for carbon are not shown here, a common convention. They would be at the alternate spots on the ring. If you start numbering the ring from the top, clockwise around the ring, you will find the Nitrogen atoms at the 1, 3 and 5 positions, with the suppressed carbons at the 2, 4 and 6 positions. Attached to each of these carbons is an amino group, -NH2, hence, 2, 4, 6 triamine. It's quite a pretty little molecule and very symmetrical.

Every amino acid building block of a protein also has an amine group (-NH2), and assays that estimate protein by nitrogen content would identify melamine containing food as high protein:

For years, producers of animal feed all over China have secretly supplemented their feed with the substance, called melamine, a cheap additive that looks like protein in tests, even though it does not provide any nutritional benefits, according to melamine scrap traders and agricultural workers here.

"Many companies buy melamine scrap to make animal feed, such as fish feed," said Ji Denghui, general manager of the Fujian Sanming Dinghui Chemical Company, which sells melamine. "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." (New York Times)

The current alarm over melamine involves its addition to wheat gluten, a protein used in pet food and from there, sometimes given to livestock. Some US pork products are said to be contaminated with small quantities of melamine. Over 10,000 reports of sick pets in the US have been attributed to contaminated pet food, and melamine is the most mentioned culprit as the cause of their renal failure. It is not at all clear how melamine causes damage and it is generally thought that some metabolite of the resin is the active agent (see a brief summary of current ideas in the wikipedia article on melamine, which appears reliable). The small amounts of melamine that might find its way into the human food chain (e.g., the pork route) are unlikely to be a public health risk in itself, but it illustrates two things: how readily contaminants move through the highly connected network that is industrial food production; and the almost complete lack of oversight and protection by the US Food and Drug Administration. Harmful or not, this is adulterated food. And by all accounts, the adulteration by Chinese producers is widespread and has been going on for years.

So there's melamine that's not supposed to be in our food. What else?

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Which companies have been disposing of
their melamine scrap over the years is this evil way? Who do they do business with?

What products have been being allowed to be imported into the US market, while the garbage from those items went into out pets and people food supply?

Far too many corporations and chemicals keep saying their small ammount doesn't count as harmful, but humans (and our ecosystem) are exposed to all of them in various ways, at once, for years, and those small ammounts add up looking at all the contaminants and pollutants.

Whole lot of boycotting needs to be going on, since no one is bothering to adequately protect regulate and inspect foodstuffs/imports.
Think globally; produce buy and eat locally.

By crfullmoon (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

I can't figure from the news coverage whether it's melamine or melamine resin which is said to be added to feed.

By Frank Mirer (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

The wheat gluten used in dog food is always 'human grade'.

The melamine was added specifically, so that the wheat gluten could be sold as human grade.

The melamine has also been found in corn gluten and natural rice based protein.

Human grade raw materials are designed and used for a wide variety of human food products.

...Therefore, melamine will be in use industry and country wide and will be in a wide variety of human processed foods that use these products as binders etc.

The only question in my mind is what is the unknown second chemical that is being used in combination and causing the problems in reaction with the melamine.

Found this on a flashlight forum, seems relevant:

----- begin quote (my excerpt)-----------

Flashlight with toxic "rubber" switch cover?
I've noticed the same smell .... Actually a lot of Chinese rubber smells that way...I've noticed it on other products as well.

Ditto. There are many Chinese products that smell that way now. It's nasty! You inner "sixth sense" tells you that it's not at all good. The only light that I have that smells like that is an advertised 3 million CP Vector dual beam spotlight. I keep in in the garage because I dislike the smell so much.

Ditto about Walmart smelling the same way. There is definately something unhappy going on during the manufacturing process Maybe a chemist will chime in with his or her two cents....

---- end quote----

[One person points out the stinky rubber/plastic glows in UV light, if that helps anyone]
Anyone in a lab who can start looking into what's being used? Seems this would be good info not only for consumers, but to feed back to the people who are doing the manufacturing work. I noticed a recent comment by a Chinese water pollution tracking group that most of the big polluters they'd identified were multinational corporations that had moved their dirty work to China.

And don't forget to wear your gloves before handling the products.
Oh, your gloves were made there too? Hmmm, could be a problem.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

It's melamine, not melamine resin (melmac). They're related, but not identical. It's usually made from urea.

What about the safety of all of the gluten-based meat substitutes? Are they as unsafe as the pet food? Should vegans be worrying too?

suzib. Unfortunately...Yes...

...and this did not happen with one shipment in November as is being sold.

There has been a string of unexplained animal deaths going back for at least two or three years.

This is also not a localized problem in one plant of one exporter. The Communist Government of China has a history with respect to preservatives and adulterants of feeds and foodstuffs... my opinion, based on a nine year investigation into the quality of imported foodstuffs, the adulteration is intentional and industry wide.

Also in my opinion, the domestic importers of a wide variety of products may be surprised about the result but could and would not be surprised about the adulteration. When you use products which have lost any ability to decompose, you must know you have a problem even though you really like the fact that you never have to throw any raw materials or fresh produce for that matter, in the garbage.

Looks like Capitalism at work again. The highest good is making money, is it not. If pesky regulators would leave all the food people alone more money could be made. Oh I forgot unregulated capitalism is what American Capitalists want for themselves. Unregulated capitalism in other countries is the highest of EVILS.
Time for an updated version of The Jungle.


I can't speak for your country but in Canada, there are no "pesky regulators".

The regulatory community, colletively, both animal and Canada, that would be Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency...have no desire to deal with these issues other than for appearances...

...until they are forced to deal with the issues, this issue will be swept under the carpet and you will hear no more about it...except the problem won't go away...they will just figure out a way to stop killing dogs and my opinion only of course.

From "Dr. Perry Martos and colleagues from the Agriculture and Food Laboratory at Guelph's Laboratory Services announced Friday they have discovered a dangerous reaction when melamine and cyanuric acid - the two contaminants found in the imported wheat gluten used in the pet food -- are combined.

The two chemicals react to form crystals that could block kidney function.

The crystal-like substances found in the urine and kidneys of affected animals matched the crystals produced when the chemicals were combined at the University's Animal Health Laboratory."

claire: This is mentioned in the wikipedia link I provided. It seems there are several possible theories, including something other than melamine. So far the mechanism hasn't been nailed down.

Thanks Claire.

If I could correct one statement IMO, when I said.."they will just figure out a way to stop killing dogs and cats"...what I meant to say was that they would figure out a way to stop the visible killing of dogs and cats...the acute toxemia...they just screwed up this time in my opinion...

...what I am concerned about is the invisible that has been going on for at least nine years...subclinical poisoning is of no concern to the regulators that I know and have encountered (I used to be one).

There is a good reason that two of three humans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes and there will be a good reason for the decrease in life expectancy in the next 15 years...

...we, the baby boomers, are the most contaminated generation in history, if you do not look at our children.

You can choose whether to smoke or drink or sit in the sun or irradiate yourself...but we all have to eat food, three times a day, every day of our lives.

Think about it.

tom: "There is a good reason that two of three humans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes and there will be a good reason for the decrease in life expectancy in the next 15 years..."

You are off by a factor of two. It is one of three. Life expectancy is a conditional probability. Do you mean life expectancy at birth? Because if you do, the next 15 years won't have much relevance to your point.

Tom, whatever regulators we had in the past seem to have gone for cover once the Bush crowd came in.

Revere. Thanks.

I guess things must be far worse up here in Canada because the reports I have read say clearly that 66 % will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes...

...and the point I made about life expectancy is just that...the overall life expectancy is beginning to tip in the other direction.

Most of the food contamination (and excess chlorination of water) has occurred in the past ten years while the problems with food additives began in the 1960's.

In June 1998, as far as I know, dried mushrooms and white button mushrooms in vats imported for canning in North America were the only food imports from China. The rest has occurred since.

It would be interesting for the FDA to indicate for how long China has been importing wheat gluten and corn gluten...then you will know how long a wide variety of processed food products have been contaminated.

We are not talking about minor adulteration of foods. This issue has to be dealt with and not swept under the carpet as in the past.

We should also remember that the greatest lobbyists for continued import from China is not the Communist Government of China but the importers who have a lot of money and clout.

So lemme see if I get this straight...

Unregulated lowest bidders are doing something on the cheap that games the system and may be risky to make a greater profit.

I have the answer, let's get some pro-Bush agenda types in the regulatory agencies to reduce regulations and not enforce current ones.

--- I acknowledge that this is not the Bushies fault, nor would this necessarily been stopped on any particular administrators watch. But seeing as how the media blames the individual event on the population mean (e.g. Cho and mental health system, disease X with genetics, Bushies and the FDA with everything, ), I thought I'd give it a try and see how it feels. ---

Feels wrong.

Even with enforcement and stricter regulation, events like this will happen. That is not to discount the efforts, but rather to ackowledge that any surveillance system will miss something. I think the real concern and question should be, how many other events like this are happening and what consequences are we missing.

Darin: They'll happen less if someone is looking for them.

Sorry, Revere, I didn't really register that the link was there--with time constraints I find I'm not usually detouring away from sites I read anymore.

Gee Darin, it seems that the Chinese were doing this and sending this shit around the world. Must have to blame Bush for that too...... If you have hemmorhoids it must be Cheneys fault.

It would appear also that Tom DVM has his own set of problems up in Canada as do the Swedes where some more of this shit apparently is turning up.

Question is if it entered the human food chain. Going to go hard on the Chinese at the WTO meeting as a result of all of this. I am also with Revere on the looking for it stuff. Most regulators can be bought off if the margin is high enough. I have no idea what sexed up gluten costs but they use it in all sorts of things.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink


I have an idea. Let's not buy animal feed from China.


It won't be just dogs and cats. I know this is going to disgust some of you, but people eat pet food too. It's a lot cheaper than human food, most of the time. When you are homeless or very poor and hungry it is not such an unpleasant option. I've seen people do it.

Of course, if they did get sick it would be exceedingly rare and no one would think of asking of them if they'd been eating pet food. That would be a hard one to spot.

But essentially, it is human food for the simple reason that there are people who eat it.

Wikipedia article keeps getting better. I have more confidence knowing the Revere(s) are reading it!

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 01 May 2007 #permalink

Hank: I use Wikipedia a lot. It is like everything else. You have to read it with judgment, just like Britannica (which I had a set of and used) or newspapers or textbooks. Not everything in Wikipedia is correct, but I think most of it is and the science articles are particularly good in my experience.

And do remember that it was China who with a straight face sold "soy sauce" to the international marketplace which was actually made from hydrolyzed human hair.


HeadOn (you know the commercial) contains trace amounts of Potassium Dichromate. The International Occupational Safety and Health Information Centre describes the dangers of long-term or repeated exposure to Potassium Dichromate as follows:
Repeated or prolonged contact may cause skin sensitization. Repeated or prolonged inhalation exposure may cause asthma. The substance may have effects on the respiratory tract and kidneys, resulting in nasal septum perforation and kidney impairment. This substance is carcinogenic to humans. May cause heritable genetic damage to human germ cells. Animal tests show that this substance possibly causes toxicity to human reproduction or development.

And they want me to apply this directly to the forehead? No way!

> people eat pet food too.

I hope the CDC is looking for this problem in the statistics. I wonder if poor elderly people who buy a lot of cat food are broken out statistically somewhere.

I'd bet big grocery store companies with "customer card discount" systems could track the subsets of customers--correlate the cat food purchasers' addresses with other records? --to pick up human cases.

But would they tell Homeland Security or the CDC if they noticed a pattern?

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 02 May 2007 #permalink

Looks like it's turned up in imported chicken feed now:

Can anyone remind me again why these guys are always given the benefit of the doubt in public health matters while Taiwan is kept out of the WHO?

What? Something about the good of the many outweighing the good of the few? Hm.


They could make the problem go away entirely if they don't look for it at all.

No lookee, no see-ee.

By Lisa the GP (not verified) on 02 May 2007 #permalink

And another thing...

How would we go about having pathologists around the country look at random kidney tissue samples from autopsies of people recently deceased for non-renal causes, to look for evidence of sub-clinical melamine crystals in their kidneys? What would be the incremental cost of organizing such an effort? A detection protocol would have to be devised and distributed, but how difficult would it be and how expensive for any chemical testing required?

This should give the public health community a quick snapshot of whether the level of contamination in the food chain is of any biological significance to humans thus far, and would neatly side-step any data-free comforting and politically motivated platitudes mouthed by the USDA, FDA, or other agencies whose motivations under this administration may be somewhat conflicted.

By Lisa the GP (not verified) on 02 May 2007 #permalink

Lisa-at first blush it sounds like a fabulous idea. But going to the other end of the spectrum we might see a huge increase in the cost of food liability which ends up impacting the poor. MIFA here sends out prepared meals to the old people and their liability insurance for providing a "free meal" to older people is off the scale. I dunno, its like every study. They will come back with one that says its safe, then there will be a Swedish study, then a funded GAO report by some Senator or Congressman with an agenda......

Testing is at a huge level already by the purveyors because of the chances of BF, BSF, etc. Not that they would tell us if it hit, but to be ready for the lawsuits. Its like my business, my insurance went from the mid-20's annually to the mid-50's because someone ran a plane into a building 1800 miles away. We know it and they are out there. Question is will we be lucky enough not to find it? And if we do, does it mean that we get PG& E'd.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 02 May 2007 #permalink

Randolph. You have raised the crux of the matter.

When considering public health, food safety, or pandemic influenza for that cannot play an issue...not even a little bit.

What is the cost from subclinical (unseen) but poisonings in a variety of foodstuffs by the interaction and/or additive effects of a variety of manmade chemical molecules that are either not needed or present in "massive" levels.

If we can give the United Nation and those involved in the food for oil plan, and the United Nations subordinate the World Health Organization and we can give pharmaceutical companies diplomatic immunity...then we should be able to give a volunteer group who provide a vital service to those in need.

Randolph Kruger said: But going to the other end of the spectrum we might see a huge increase in the cost of food liability which ends up impacting the poor.

Randolph, I would rather impact the poor by raising the cost of food than by condemning everyone including the poor to a contaminated food supply leading to renal insufficiency, lost productivity due to poor health, renal failure, and an early death.

There are things more important than money and profit. Get a perspective.

The economic impact stifling of such investigation is exactly why I think public health should, if possible, do the study quickly and quietly before nobody with a profit-driven axe to grind knows what is happening and can stomp on the effort.

By Lisa the GP (not verified) on 03 May 2007 #permalink

Just quoting this from another source, giving another perspective:

One of the most deliberately ignored aspects of this tragedy is the issue of American companies purchasing huge amounts of Chinese wheat, rice and corn products even though they are natively produced in the States and the United States a net exporter.

A Boston Sun article points this out very clearly in a series of interviews with the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers which clearly indicates that American companies would dearly love to sell their produce, wheat, corn and rice, to US companies but are being severely undercut by Chinese imports--and the savings are only something like twenty cents or less per pound.

Lisa-the cost of doing all the testing you are suggesting would be in the hundreds of billions of dollars for just the US market alone. By their own admission the USDA only samples 2% of the food supplies entering the US and about 18% of the domestic product. That also doesnt include the huge burgeoning bureacracy that would have to be inflated beyond what it is already and not doing its job well enough. Its all about the budgets and you might ensure that the flow of food is totally, completely clean but then put it out of the reach of the public that is poor. Insurance companies are betting that they will produce a viable clean product and that alone will generally ensure that the food supply is clean. I dont agree with the supposition that the public would be affected very much because the effects of this kind of stuff start showing themselves pretty quickly. I do agree that renal failure is a possibility along with all sorts of other problems, but its miniscule compared to whats already out in the environment. Eg. migrant worker with hep C squats or lets fly on the lettuce and contaminates it. Taco Bell is looking at millions in lawsuits from that little problem. They likely are already testing the food they pick up now. Mickie D's is and now Wal-Mart is checking their produce. What kind of testing and for what I dont know but they are inspecting it more closely at the very least.

Our food is probably already nearly the cleanest in the world and only because of the possibility of jail for an accidental or definitely for deliberate poisoning, contamination or infection. Even here in Tennessee the class action lawsuits have already been filed for the death of dogs who consumed the contaminated D. food. 4000 bucks per dog per the state laws for a wrongful death. Thats the number its pegged at unless the dog was a breeder and then its the 4000 plus a breeding a year for six years times the average number in the litter. Right now just out of Tennessee its standing at nearly 2 million bucks. I think they'll be checking more closely now.

But....It doesnt address what you are suggesting and thats where the kibbles hits the kidneys. They have successfully in this country and the EU turned death and damage to humans into a number.That number will vary in dollars, but it doesnt change anything. You are now worth "X" to an insurance company,product manufacturer or in this case the grower or producer of food products. Its the way of the world. I wish it werent so, but it is.

The day this hit you can bet the insurance companies were trying to assess the damage and where they stood on this and what their liability was, not whether they killed people or pets. Since the product was manufactured in China it means it likely comes into a corporation which has no assets and possibly no insurance. The difference this time around is that China is part of the WTO and thats not controlled by them yet. So you can bet this is going to produce sanctions against them, along with the other reasons we are already there hitting them about balance of trade. They had until this year to comply and oops, now they feel the heat. But that too is a numbers game. Kind of like oil for food as Tom posit's. Cheap oil for crappy food, cheaper oil for first line weapons, centrifuges, forbidden milling machines and the like. Dont think you'll see volunteers to do sampling because again if its a hospital, then it opens them up to "Why didnt YOU detect it before John Q. Public died. Why didnt YOU, save his life?" Add in the fact that all the insurance companies have to do is to get slow on payments and those hospitals allowing the samplings without court orders will see the light. It would and will happen no matter who is in the White House. It would be worse under UHC. Then we get to pay for someone who at melamine and had to go thru dialysis and raise the cost of premiums for the system. Its a total Catch 22 and this is where I always say that health care is a service and not a right. You have the right to sue if someone damages you or yours, but not the right to put that onto someone else. Bad? Yep but the change that would ensure that under all systems it would work the way you want to is that you turn it into a Class C or higher felony. Manslaughter. You squat on the tomato's and you go to jail. You put melamine into a food product and you go to jail. You do it intentionally knowing that the product is intended for human use... Murder 1.

I asked my cousin who does the blood, tissue sampling for DNA, drugs, outside chemicals in tissues for the Memphis PD what the cost would be for blood testing alone...Average cost $350 USD. Tissue sampling of the dead for melamine he said if it were done by hospitals might go for about 750 because they have to account for their time there too. E.g. when the body is wheeled down it had better be going to a morticians wagon or it becomes a monetary thing. I asked about the possibility of wrongful deaths and how/when a coroner would get involved... his reply was almost never.

So someone for now who is contaminated only has a damages claim in the courts. Someone's family who suspects it post death can pay to have them checked, but then its just a wrongful death lawsuit. It is as I said, everyone now just has an "X" on them. X=$???? But there isnt anyone in particular to hit unless you can prove malicious intent. Very tough to do.

Change the laws.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 03 May 2007 #permalink

Randolph, I think you misunderstand my intent.

I'm not saying that we should look at kidneys of those dying of non-renal causes in order to fix blame or cause a liability issue. What we should do, is look at them to determine if melamine polymer is collecting in detectable amounts in the population when sampled at random.

I wouldn't use people with renal disease as the cause of death because you cannot be sure whether the renal disease was caused by the melamine (if you find it) or if the melamine accumulation is due to pre-existing disease.

If you look for melamine in people who had no clinical kidney issues, then it's a case of 'no harm no foul'--you are not generating a situation of liability for anyone. But what you *are*doing, is determining if the melamine contamination in the food chain has been reaching humans, and if it has the *potential* to cause clinical problems.

If you find small amounts of it in the otherwise normal kidneys of human beings then that would prove that the food supply is contaminated sufficiently that humans are at risk *over a longer span of time* of developing the same renal problems as the pets did, which is basically to have their kidneys fill up with deposits of plastic. It would show that the problem has indeed entered the human food chain with potential significance, and that would allow clinicians to start looking for evidence of melamine as the cause in any otherwise explained kidney problems that might crop up in their patients.

Finding melamine in otherwise healthy folk will not, however, prove that the melamine causes harm. That would require additional study.

The medical community has to do something about this. We're the only ones who do not have a reason to bury the data; everyone else makes more money if they let people become sick or die. I'm just not plugged into 'the system' enough to initiate the effort.

By Lisa the GP (not verified) on 03 May 2007 #permalink

And I'm thinking of a fairly small sample size--say 1000 corpses nationwide, chosen at modified-random to reflect the general population. The question to be answered is: has the melamine contamination of the food chain for humans reached a level where melamine can be detected in human kidneys?

You'd not be measuring morbidity or mortality, merely if the melamine exposure of your average Joe is enough to turn up in the kidneys.

By Lisa the GP (not verified) on 03 May 2007 #permalink

Well, you need a local group of doctors in say 30 states and preferably metro areas where you would get the most people Lisa. You also would need what kind of samples? Something you could get with a like a liver punch needle? I doubt you would get full necropsy authorizations and then what? Once the hospitals as I said found that indeed non symptomatics were run thru their house without the melamine check being done, someone would sue and that would end it. Its hard enough to get authorizations for an autopsy now. Mine is with my DNR but only to get that .44 mag out of there that I hid for years... kidding.

Nope. You need some sort of test. Is there a test that can do it from pee? I'll ask my cuz Steve and see if he knows of any. If you have a specific named test that would do it either blood or urine let me know. I think that what it does is forms some sort of crystals and they have to kick some of them out. Is it better to get a bladder test and how big do these crystals get anyway?

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 03 May 2007 #permalink

Randolph, you still don't get it.

I'm saying, take a kidney tissue sample from people who died of non-renal causes who are *already* being autopsied, and test those samples for melamine and look for it under a microscope in the kidney tissue.

People already getting autopsies are generally crime and accident victims, people who died of unknown causes at home without a witness to the death, and people who died in the hospital under circumstances where the family or the hospital staff (with family consent) want to know more about what happened.

I'm saying a sample size of 1000 nationwide because if you get up to 1000 samples and don't find any, then probably fewer than 1 in 200 folk (approx 90% confidence) are getting measurable melamine exposure, which means its probably not that big a problem in the widespread population.

On the other hand if you do 20 people and find 4 instances of detectable melamine, then you can pretty much stop there because you've already determined that melamine accumulation in the kidneys *is* occurring in the general population and now you need to start looking at the more expensive issue you're suggesting, which is identifying affected live people to see if it is impacting health.

By Lisa the GP (not verified) on 04 May 2007 #permalink

The FDA has a standard protocol for testing foodstuffs for melamine, but I don't know if there is one for testing tissues.

By Lisa the GP (not verified) on 04 May 2007 #permalink

"WASHINGTON - Federal officials on Friday placed a hold on 20 million chickens raised for market in several states because their feed was mixed with pet food containing an industrial chemical."

I'd say it's a lot cheaper to check human kidneys *now* than ignore the problem and end up paying for dialysis later.

Oops, almost forgot. Here's a fascinating set of pictures from a pdf:
'Preliminary findings in a case of suspected toxicity associated with recalled pet food"

Apparently doesn't dissolve in much. Sure don't want this stuff clogging up MY kidneys!

Have you seen the NYT story tday about "counterfeiters who profit by substituting the sweet-tasting solvent for a safe, more expensive syrup, usually glycerin" Evidently nothing new, but people keep dying. Title:
From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine
Published: May 6, 2007
Sorry, don't know how to do the URL thing.

By Bonnie Dineen (not verified) on 06 May 2007 #permalink

Now they've traced the melamine to fish food too. Not only farmed fish, but also hatchlings released to lakes and streams as stock for sport fishermen.

By Lisa the GP (not verified) on 08 May 2007 #permalink

Lisa/Revere..... This stuff accumulates in the kidneys of animals right and not the general tissues?

BTW a little bird in government told me that this stuff may have been coming into the country for four years from one to three sources. The Chinese are scrambling to shut them down. Under their laws if the acts caused human death and its attributable then they will be shot or hanged.

Incredibly stupid thing to do and as with the glycol deaths in Panama they will pay for it with their lives.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 08 May 2007 #permalink

Randy: we don't know much about effects in humans, but everything I know about this says there is too little in our foodstuffs and we are too big for this to accumalate anywhere. From my point of view its importance is as a marker for how something truly harmful can move through the human food chain without our knowing.

In physics, each action has an equal and opposite reaction. In animal physiology, each action has thousands of reactions..

...the point being that nothing in the body happens in isolation. Yes, this chemical by itself will accumulate in the body at any level but the more important concern is how does this chemical interact with the other foreign particles circulating daily mainly due to additives or intentional or unintentional adulterants of processed foods.

You will often hear as with the chickens and pigs that a Health Risk Analysis has indicated there is no danger from the levels in these foods...

...but the fact is that they treat the situation in isolation...there is no danger if this is the only source of the contaminant and there are no other contaminants that will chemically interact.

Dioxin is always safe if you are isolating it in one food source and ignoring the rest.

Health Risk Analysis are the processed food lobbyists best friend.

Revere. What if there is a small part of melamine in one food you eat for supper and extraneous formaldehyde (embalming fluid) in the food right beside the melamine contaminated food?

Tom DVM: There are over 2000 chemicals in coffee, most unidentified. It makes no sense just to wave your hands and say everything is connected to everything else. Since I know a fair amount about dioxin, I can say your portrayal of risk assessments about it are completely incorrect. There is no known safe level for dioxin. In fact there is a very elaborate scheme of toxic equivalency factors meant to take into account other similarly acting chemicals and the question of interactions has been extensively explored. It is a difficult science, but your version of it bears no relation to what is actually going on. You are ignoring evidence. Once again.

An implication of your view is that we shouldn't use wind power, solar power, tide power or any other alternative energy source because it will interact with other things (which is true) and we can't predict how (which is true). Same for antibiotics, which vets use indiscriminately, as do many doctors. Same is true, BTW, for computers, which you used to write your comment. Is your inconsistency unethical, as you impllied about WHO? Or is it just applied to them?

Revere. I have no idea what you just said.

Nature is simplistic.

Health Risk Analyses only treat a chemical in isolation...which means that if it is looking at a food adulterated with foramadehyde (embalming fluid) as a preservative then it will not take into account, the additive effects of formaldehyde in any other food source or the potential combinations of formaldehyde with any other chemical natural or artificial.

The end result is that the Health Risk Analysis is a tool for the status quo, it is a tool that is used to downplay the effects of contaminants...

...and that is why 99.99% of the time, like in the case of the chickens and pigs with melamine, that there is no danger from the additive...same for growth hormones, same for antibiotics in feed, same for pesticides, same for dioxin etc. etc. etc.

If the above statement makes me simplistic or be it...This is not a popularity contest.

Secondly, the World Health Organization took a model from the CDC that specifically said in the limitations that the model should not be used as any kind of estimate for a future pandemic...and deliberately mislead the world community...not once but repeatedly over several months.

That is unethical.


My understanding of the current evidence is that the melamine in animals is partly metabolized (my guess is liver for that) and that when these two chemicals are filtered in the kidneys, under the right conditions of concentration and pH, etc, they form crystals. It's unclear from what I've read if these are some kind of co-precipitate or if they react to make a polymer.

Precipitation in the kidneys is reminiscent of ethylene glycol. But this precipitate seems to be more a problem of mechanical blockage than of spiking-out to rupture tubule cells.

The precipitant also seems to be insoluble under most conditions. If this is true, then depending on the rate of exposure and the rate of dissolution and/or mechanical removal of the deposits in the kidney by fluid flow, there could be a very slow accumulation of the material in the kidneys over a long period of time, even if the rate of exposure is very low. Much as stalactites and stalagmites form in a cave, a slow accumulation from low concentrations can still result in large deposits given enough time.

This material may have been in the food chain for as long as 4 years. *If* a long term accumulation of the material is possible in human kidneys, then we should be able to find early signs of that accumulation if we go 'fishing' for it by looking in the kidneys of random people who have died from non-renal causes (to rule out the possibility that abnormal kidneys accumulate the material faster than or preferentially when compared to normal ones).

If a low level dosage causes a cumulative problem, then there should be traces of the melamine 'crystal' material in the kidneys of random people who have eaten a contaminated diet over the long term.

I think this is the only way that we can definitively determine if the melamine in the food supply has the potential to have biological effect on humans.

And btw, to get to the kidneys from the digestive tract, it has to travel in the blood, which means that even if the concentrations to be detected have been in the kidneys of animals, there are trace amounts in the meat due to the amount of blood remaining in the blood vessels in the meat.

And if the kidneys act as a cumulative collector of the material over time, then even these amounts not easily detected in meat, over time, can wind up accumulating in kidneys--much like mercury, which is notoriously poorly soluble in water, can still accumulate in high-level predatory fish such as swordfish via the cumulative dose they acquire via all the fish they eat in their lives, who in term accumulated it from the fish they ate, etc.

I really think we should be looking at random kidney samples to see if any of this stuff turns up.

By Lisa th GP (not verified) on 09 May 2007 #permalink

Lisa: I guess I need to do a follow-up, probably this weekend. The issue seems to be cyanuric acid co-precipitate via hydrogen bonding. My understanding is it doesn't cumulate because it is relatively soluble and not lipophilic. But I'll go over what I know and set it out here for others to critique.

Lisa. I completely agree.

I would suggest that the Chinese like to use formaldehyde as a preservative-sterilizer-antifungal-antimould treatment. This treatment produces a head gas without a lot of smell to it and treatment levels of agricultural food products is often at an "massive" (Health Canada term) level.

If this was the case with the wheat germ, extraneous formaldehyde may be involved in a partial chemical reaction producing the crystals?

Tom is that formaldehyde used like they do here for tomatoes and fruit with Chlorine gas? They use the gas here to de-bug fruit and veggies. You have to have seen those tomatoes that are absolutely perfectly ripe looking and then found they were like biting an old shoe. Their texture inside is very tough because while they look like they are ripe, they are only on the outside. The insides are still green. Does that have the same effect?

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 10 May 2007 #permalink

Hi MRK. They use it straight up as a food preservative. In the case that I was following, they were using "massive" formaldehyde with "massive" sulphites...the formaldehyde stabilitized the sulphites preventing their escape as a gas. Combinations can be very effective.

They follow the old rule: if a little bit is good...then more is better.

They are master manipulators of chemicals but seem to have missed the toxicology class.

In the case of wheat germ etc...this was of very poor quality, requiring melamine etc. to falsifize Nitrogen levels to raise it to ....HUMAN GRADE!!!!!!!!!!!!...

...there a few things that go along with poor quality...mould and fungus and rat infestation from excessive storage in poor conditions...

...Solution...treat the wheat with formaldehyde spray in the auger when it is going into storage or direct treatment of the value added product...wheat germ and flour.

They have been getting away with the melamine for at least five years, causing subclinical but not clinical disease...I have been observing a pattern of death of pets in Canada from atypical kidney failure for at least three years.

It also will be in processed foods because the melamine was added to bring it to HUMAN GRADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Where the Chinese have made the strategic they are masters of chemical that I believe the combination of extraneous formaldehyde (embalming fluid) and melamine is causing a partial reaction in the gut which results in the crystals.

...and therefore the need for Lisa's screening study along with I would add, a retrospective study of the incidence of kidney disease in humans in the past five years.

I have also suggested proactive screening of imported food products in the past and maybe increasing the inspection level of import food containers from the current three or less containers per one hundred... one was interested.

My entire concern and suggestion hinges on the basis that the precipitant is poorly soluble under normal conditions in the urinary tract. If it is soluble under conditions common to humans (eg: forms when the urine is acidic and dissolves every time the urine is alkinalysed by dietary changes, or vice-versa), then it would be getting washed out whenever those conditions occurred and the likelyhood of dangerous accumulation would be reduced.

By Lisa the GP (not verified) on 10 May 2007 #permalink