Chinese food products- the greatest killer


Maneka Gandhi


(Bihar Times) While in recent years there has been an unexplained epidemic in kidney failure both in humans and animals, it was only last year that, due to 12,000 dogs and cats dying in America in a week, scientists started looking for causes  and found the culprit -melamine.

China is known for two things ( a) its cheap products( b) the mysterious way in which they are made. The reason is obvious: with little or no controls over any industry in China, producers can use any ingredients they like as long as they keep it cheap enough to export. The Chinese lack of compassion is legendary so if people and animals die , so be it.

I predict that over the next five years, hundreds of carcinogenic and other deadly products will be found in many Chinese products. But since melamine is today’s major culprit, let us start with the questions, ‘What is Melamine?’ and ‘Why is it used in Chinese food products’?
Melamine is a chemical derived from coal and made up of carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen. It is a white crystalline powder and contains 66% nitrogen. Discovered in 1830, it  has been used in a variety of products since, from  plastic dishes, mugs, utensils, laminate flooring, cleaning products, kitchen cabinets and ready to assemble furniture to textiles, fertilizers and pesticides.
Why do dairy products manufacturers use melamine?

A lot of foods are priced according to protein content. In fact the only test Chinese products were/are subjected to by importers is a basic protein test like Kjeldahl or Dumas – which measures protein by measuring nitrogen levels. Melamine contains nitrogen so adding just one gram of melamine per kg of milk is enough to lift the apparent protein content of milk from less than 27g per kg (the cheapest grade of milk in China ) to higher than 31g per kg - the most expensive grade. So you simply dilute the milk, add melamine and boost the price of a kg of milk from 1.2 yuan ($.18)  to 1.8 yuan ($ .27).  This wondrous way of fooling the world was discovered in 1999 by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) funded by the Chinese government. 

Melamine kills.  Combining with cyanuric acid to form melamine cyanurate, it  is absorbed into the bloodstream and crystallizes to form yellow crystals that  block and damage the renal cells  causing the kidneys and bladder to malfunction and fail. Since baby formula  is the primary food of infants they are particularly vulnerable as they consume more melamine per unit of body weight than older children. People with already weak kidneys and bladders are at risk.  Chronic exposure to melamine can cause cancer and reproductive damage.

Melamine has become the largest killer of pet dogs . It went undetected because it destroys over time and the diagnosis is usually just renal failure for both humans and animals. The Chinese got caught because, in March 2007, one pet food company, Menu Foods got greedy and put so much melamine into its product  that pets did not suffer kidney failure gradually but immediately upon  eating the food.

After the dog deaths , the American Food and Drug Administration discovered melamine in all pet food manufactured in China and in 100 brands that had used contaminated wheat flour from China.  Then they found it in pig and poultry feed. Thousands of animals had to be killed. Then they found it in dairy products, dehydrated milk and anything containing milk.  Then anything containing eggs.

With the spotlight on melamine contamination, baby deaths in China  also came to light. Over 50,000 Chinese babies had taken ill with many dying from drinking melamine-tainted milk products like powdered milk and baby formula. Hongkong was the next to report deaths from milk products made in China.

Melamine was found in biscuits produced in Sri Lanka and Thailand which had to be recalled.  The Netherlands found cookies with melamine. In the Philippines, out of 14 Chinese food products , eight tested positive for melamine contamination. These include two brands of milk candy, a brand of chocolate, a brand of milk powder, a coffee creamer used in restaurants, a popular iced drink and two brands of processed meats – one luncheon meat and the other, corned beef.  The meats were probably from animals given melamine-mixed feed.  Why powder (which is used in confectionary mixes ) and skimmed milk replacer has also tested positive for melamine. Melamine has also been detected in fish food used for feeding shrimps.

Every day brings to light a new product infested with melamine including powdered coffee and tea, desserts, White Rabbit candy, pretzels, and cookies. Nestle which manufactures in China has found melamine in several of its products. Hong Kong authorities have banned two Cadbury products which have shown high levels of melamine. Melamine has been found in American products containing wheat gluten and rice protein imported from China. Taiwan has seized thousands of kgs of Chinese-produced milk powder and recalled packs of Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea .  South Korea has had to destroy 23 tonnes of  Chinese processed egg products while Canada intercepted a Chinese shipment of corn gluten that tested positive for melamine.  Earlier a corn gluten shipment from China to South Africa killed dogs there. Local tests in Singapore have found melamine in milk, ice cream, yoghurt, chocolates, biscuits and sweets and have banned the import of all milk products from China. Countries from Bangladesh to Tanzania have followed suit.

The fault lies as much with the importing companies and countries as with China’s greed and inhumanity. While America and the EU have now put severe checks on Chinese food imports, until 2007 no tests were conducted for pet foods and animal feed. As a result hundreds of animals died. Emboldened by getting away with killing animals whilst earning huge profits, the Chinese were arrogant enough to try it with human food as well. Even this escaped notice in spite of a sharp rise in kidney failures. It took sudden deaths from melamine overdoses for governments to react. Companies had clearly put personal profit over public safety.

America and Europe have now cancelled the import of dairy products including biscuits, candy and chocolate. Nutracea, Mission Foods and Tyson Foods have reiterated that their ingredients are not, or will no longer be, sourced from China.  Has that made any difference? No. China, whose dairy based food exports have grown by more than 90% to $3500 million in 2007 has simply switched markets and found Asian countries to buy its poison. Guess who’s buying?  In 2008 when China desperately needed a buyer for its contaminated stock, India graciously volunteered. In 2006 we imported 665 kg of Chinese milk , in 2007  dairy products from China rose to  7,062 kg and in 2008 to 88,000 kg! While all countries have barred Chinese milk products and introduced melamine testing ,  India has not. We have NO melamine checks on any of this food.

Well if the government won’t protect you, do it yourself.  Here is a list of products in which melamine has been found:

Pet food  ,       Fish food        Poultry feed      Wheat gluten and rice protein      biscuits      Milk, and over 31 brands of powdered milk including Lipton, Glico and Ritz  and Heinz DHA+AA baby cereal      Egg products      Cadbury dark chocolate éclairs and dairy milk hazelnut chocolate     Coffee creamers > White Rabbit Creamy Candy      Dove chocolate      Dreyers cake mix and icecream      Dutch Lady candy      First Choice crackers & Ritz Snacks      Kraft Oreo wafer sticks      M&Ms      Magnum ice cream      Mentos bottle yoghurt      Snickers funsize      Yili hi-cal milk      Youcan sesame snacks         Instant coffee and milk tea (Lipton green milk tea, Unilever Tea)             Corn gluten         Nestle Chocolates         305 Chinese dairy-based products such as coffee creamer and vegetable creamer powders      Deserts and bakery products from China such as caramel tarts,cream buns, meat buns      Chinese made cheesecake      Eggs from Hanovo Foods and Green Living Beings       Mr Brown coffee products.
Look at the label. If it says Protein Enhanced, forget it.


To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in


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