Melamine: "Made in the USA, also"
Deliberate, toxic use of melamine to distort the protein content of milk products made in China has garnered much publicity of late. Last week, the FDA belatedly took the unusual step of holding Chinese milk-related products at the border until proven safe: this was several months after it became public knowledge that thousands of children had been poisoned by these products in China. This controversy has obscured the fact that melamine is an American problem, too.
Melamine is pervasive in our food chain. It is used in animal feeds and fertilizers, and is present in cleaning products, plyowood, plastic, cement, ink and fire-retardant paint, although the government strictly limits levels in food to 2.5 parts per million. Nevertheless, the chemical still represents a problem, primarily because it is far more toxic to children (who have higher metabolism) and no one understands the extent of long-term damage to liver and kidney caused by chronic exposure. Aside from the four children known to have died from melamine poisoning in China, the primary heatlh problems associated with melamine have related to kidney dysfunction in toddlers and infants.
Adults normally eat about one-fortieth of their weight in food per day, while children eat almost one-tenth of their weight, daily. It is thought that this would double or quadruple the toxic effect of melamine in children. While the American agriculture industry claims that melamine is carefully controlled in this country, their claims obscure the fact that many chicken, hogs and cattle are fattened on wheat gluten---almost all of which is imported to the US. Much of our imported wheat gluten comes from China, of course, and there have been well-documented cases of tainted U.S.-grown meat being sold and not recalled by the FDA.
Critics of the FDA point out that the recent ban on milk-related imports from China is "too little, too late", according to the New York Times. They point out that the ban should have been put in place at least by September when it became apparent that poisoning had injured more than 50,000 Chinese infants, and that it should include fish and egg products produced with melamine-laced food.