One of the earliest news reports on the melamine scare was by the New York Times in March 2007:
“The Food and Drug Administration said yesterday that it had not found rat poison in pet food that has been killing animals, but that it had found melamine, a chemical commonly used to make plastic cutlery that is also used in fertilizer.Hours after the announcement, the nationwide pet food recall, which had involved only so-called wet foods — all manufactured by Menu Foods and sold under a variety of brand names — was expanded to include one brand of dry cat food, Prescription Diet m/d Feline, made by Hills Pet Nutrition.The brand was found to have been made with a batch of wheat gluten shipped to the United States from China that the F.D.A. said was laced with melamine. Scientists found melamine, which is used as a slow-release fertilizer in Asia, in the urine of cats sickened by the recalled pet foods made by Menu Foods, officials said at a news conference. The recalled pet food has been blamed for at least 16 deaths of pets.”
(Source: “Pet Food Contained Chemical Found in Plastic, F.D.A. Says” by Brenda Goodman. 31 March 2007. The New York Times)
WHAT IS MELAMINE?
Melamine is a white powder used in plastic-making. It was first synthesised by a German scientist in the 1830s. Its most common form, melamine resin, a mix of melamine and formaldehyde, is used in the manufacture of formica, floor tiles, whiteboards and kitchenware.
WHY ADD MELAMINE TO MILK POWDER?
Melamine is rich in nitrogen, and relatively cheap. Adding it to sub-standard or watered-down milk makes the milk’s protein level appear higher. Standard quality tests estimate protein levels by measuring nitrogen content.
IS THIS WHY IT WAS ADDED TO PET FOOD?
Yes. Melamine was linked to the deaths of cats and dogs in the United States last year after it was added to wheat gluten and other pet food ingredients exported from China, in another attempt to boost the products’ apparent protein content.
WHO HAS BEEN AFFECTED BY THE TOXIC MILK?
So far four infants have died in China, and about 13,000 more have been hospitalised after drinking the contaminated milk. Four Hong Kong children have also become sick after consuming toxic Chinese milk powder. More than 80 percent of the sick are under two years old. Young babies that depend solely on milk are most vulnerable.
WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM HEALTH EFFECTS?
Little scientific information exists about the compound’s effects on humans. However, even if victims who have developed have kidney stones due to tainted milk consumption have these removed, the melamine could crystallise in small kidney tubes and block connecting ducts, resulting in kidney damage or even renal failure, health experts fear.More than 20 mostly Asian and African countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, Britain, Brunei, Burundi, Canada, China, France, Gabon, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Tanzania, Togo, Vietnam, and Yemen — have all either pulled products off shelves, banned China dairy imports, or stepped up their tests.
WHICH CHINESE COMPANIES ARE IMPLICATED?
22 Chinese companies have been listed as producing the tainted milk powder.
WHICH JOINT VENTURES ARE INVOLVED?
New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, the business partner of Sanlu Group, China’s top seller of infant milk powder and the first to go public with melamine contamination, has cut the value of its 43 percent stake in Sanlu to about $42 million. It said the writedown reflected the damage done to Sanlu by the scandal. Danish-Swedish dairy cooperative Arla’s Chinese joint venture Mengniu Arla’s baby formula is also implicated.
(Source: Reuters, last accessed 9 December 2008)
Melamine situation in Singapore
The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) is the local gate-keeper in ensuring the safety of food imports coming into Singapore. With regards to the products which are contaminated with melamine, AVA gives updates in its website. The last media update on this matter was the Media Release dated 27 November 2008 which states:
“The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) has completed batch-testing of the products in the remaining categories – biscuits and crackers, liquid milk, ice-cream, and milk and whey protein products, under the planned phased release of recalled China milk products. With the exception of six (6) biscuit products that tested positive for melamine, products in these categories have cleared the pre-release testing and will be released for sale with immediate effect…”
(Source: Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore, last accessed 9 December 2008)
Contributed by Kweh Soon Huat, Librarian, Adult and Young People’s Services