Feeds

Melamine, poisons and the misappliance of science

The takeaways from rogue Chinese food additives

Intelligent flash storage arrays

As melamine alerts reverberate around the world in the wake of China's dairy export industry, it affords us an opportunity to look at bad chemistry while considering the scale of the global food market. And how vulnerable consumers are when garden-variety greed, not terrorism, is the driver in mass poisonings.

In the first quarter of last year, the Chinese company, Xuzhou Anying, was advertising dust of melamine as something it called "ESB protein powder" on the global market trading website, Alibaba. "The latest product, ESB protein powder, which is researched and developed by Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., Ltd... Contains protein 160 - 300 percent, which solves the problem for shortage of protein resource," it boasted.

Awkwardly worded and a bit fishy, it nevertheless apparently hooked North American pet food makers and animal feed distributors - specifically ChemNutra, Menu Foods and Wilbur-Ellis - who lost control of their supply chain and weren't able to resist claims - which should surely have raised eyebrows - for an apparently magical protein powder. In this way, melamine found its way into a great deal of pet food as a protein extender. Xuzhou's money gig ended when someone went too far and upped the dose enough to cause precipitation in the kidneys, killing and sickening a large but not easy to track number of pets.

News stories from a year ago initially noted that melamine was not originally thought to be that toxic. But, at the time, few knew that it had a use as a processed food adulterant chosen specifically because it tested as protein. Paradoxically, it's also used in chemical combination with urea to make plastics, one example being toilet seats made in China, and bought at the local hardware store by this writer.

China makes a lot of melamine and the country also manufactures and exports tens of billions of dollars worth of powders and concentrates for use in processed food. Readers can see where this is going. Completely stamping out criminal rings making and diverting melamine for use in processed food is going to be a long process, if it can be done at all.

Nitrogen, yum...

Ironically, urea used to be used as a food adulterant, too. In the US, as late as 1985 the compound had been used to step on wheat to boost nitrogen determinations and profit for the seller.

Now, just in case one gets the idea this is bagging on China too much, consider it takes two parties to make this crime work. The people who make and sell the melamine. And the western firms in the food industry working the territory for the best possible deals, in the process giving up tight supervision and quality control of their suppliers.

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.