Melamine, oh thy name is legion

October 28, 2008 in Food Science, gluten, Local Food, melamine

More egg business - Egg underwater

Melamine is the scourge that was completely optional; it really didn’t have to happen. It’s all about greed and industrial food gone wholly amok.

Melamine poisoning spans animal feeds, pet foods, milk, baby formula, fish, wheat gluten, and now EGGS.

Wheat gluten, eggs and milk are everywhere. If you think you can protect yourself from tainted dairy and egg products from China, think again.

This post is all about melamine: what it is, how it hurts you, how it got in your food.

What exactly is Melamine?

Melamine is an organic compound (learn more) that is a key component in fire retardants and it is also a pesticide (this sets off major flags for me, more later).

It can be combined with formaldehyde to make a plastic compound and a foaming polymeric cleaning product. It is a primary component of a colorant in inks and plastics called Pigment Yellow 150.

A specific type of melamine is added to cement to make it hyper-plastic, flexible, so that it can have more attractive structural qualities.

In the 50s and 60s there was some use of melamine as a fertilizer but it proved to be inefficient as it would crystallize into salts and not be available to plants.

The thing about melamine that made people interested in using it as a fertilizer, the nitrogen aspects (amines), is what brings us closer to the current problem.

Plants need nitrogen to make proteins.

The use of melamine as a NonProteinNitrogen (NPN) in animal feeds was tested back in the 50s but it was shown that the cows didn’t use this sort of nitrogen very well.

Melamine is not that great for helping plants or animals make protein BUT it fools low-cost testing methods into thinking that it IS protein. (tests like Kjeldahl and Dumas tests estimate protein levels by measuring the nitrogen content, so they can be misled by adding nitrogen-rich compounds such as melamine. See note at bottom of this post).

Melamine itself is relatively low in toxicity but it becomes quite lethal when made into melamine cyanurate.

IMG pending

What the Chinese are putting in food, milk, feed and lord knows what else – Melamine Cyanurate

The kind of melamine implicated in the Chinese scandals is called melamine cyanurate (learn more), a chemical that is commonly used a fire retardant (as with straight melamine). It is considered more toxic than melamine or cyanurate, from which it is made.

When melamine cyanurate is ingested by mammals (those poor dogs and cats in the massive melamine Chinese pet food scandal (learn more)) it hurts the kidneys and throws the animal or person into acute renal failure.

LD50 in rats and mice (ingested):

  • 4.1 g/kg – Melamine cyanurate

From USA Today’s article “Poison pet food woes seem to hit cats harder”:

“FDA scientists explained that when melamine and cyanuric acid are absorbed into the bloodstream, they concentrate and interact in the urine-filled renal microtubules (sic), then crystallize and form large numbers of round, yellow crystals, which in turn block and damage the renal cells that line the tubes, causing the kidneys to malfunction.”

Besides renal failure (which is seen in the recent baby formula scandal – something like 94,000 children hospitalized and 4 dead from melamine poisoning Learn More), melamine has been implicated in possibly causing kidney stones, bladder cancer and reproductive organ damage.

For recent information on the scale (94,000!) of impact of the tainted milk scandal read this October 8, 2008 report from Reuters “China milk victims may have reached 94,000

The government has not updated figures issued on September 21, when it said that 12,892 infants were in hospital, 104 with serious illness, and close to 40,000 others were affected but did not need major treatment.

But reports from local media across the country compiled by Reuters suggest the number of affected children has risen to nearly 94,000, although most are not in a serious condition.

China Floats in an Ocean of Melamine

China is one nexus in the coming and current collapse of food production (fertilizer, falling acres of non-toxic land, water shortages, etc). They, like the rest of us, MUST find a way to boost soil fertility even though they (nor any other large concern) is going about it in a rational way, only in an industrial, non-sustainable way.

To this end, China has been deliberately pushing to increase it’s melamine production (from coal gasification) in recent years. Coal gasification is used to make urea – the key nitrogen component in plant fertilizers around the world. Urea, being derived from a non-renewable resource that is under massive demand pressures, is becoming more and more expensive. Because of this, many melamine manufacturers and suppliers outside of China have found it too expensive to make locally and so chose to source this from China’s growing surplus of melamine.

Even though melamine is a poor fertilizer, it is also a pesticide, so it “seems” it is attractive still. This may be scary, true, but this may be NEXT WEEK’s scandal as the melamine outbreaks we have been suffering through in recent times is due to something else.

As I mentioned, melamine can be used to dope foods so that they can LOOK protein rich while being very weak knock-offs of the original. Its like a sick pathetic rational extension of the piracy ethic in China, “fake it till you make it” no matter the costs. The same thing happened with the Baxter Heparin scandal, exact same sort of doping only with different chemicals for a different use.

The contaminant has been identified as an “over-sulphated” derivative of chondroitin sulfate, a popular shellfish-derived supplement often used for arthritis. Since this “over-sulphated” variant is not naturally occurring and mimics the properties of heparin,the counterfeit is almost certainly intentional as opposed to an accidental lapse in manufacturing. The heparin was cut from anywhere from 2-60% with a counterfeit substance due to cost effectiveness, and a shortage of suitable pigs in China. (SOURCE)

HEAT egg

It’s the Eggs, kids. Its in the eggs, in China. Are we next? Is it already happening to us?

The New York Times reported on 10/26/08 in an article “Tainted Eggs From China Discovered in Hong Kong” by David Barboza:

SHANGHAI — Hong Kong food inspectors have found eggs imported from northeast China to be contaminated with high levels of melamine, the toxic industrial additive at the heart of an adulteration scandal in Chinese milk products.


The discovery of contaminated eggs in Hong Kong was announced Saturday by the Center for Food Safety, a Hong Kong government agency, which said the eggs had been imported from a farm in the city of Dalian, in northeastern China. The center reported that the melamine level was almost double the legal limit for food sold in Hong Kong.

The general wisdom is that the melamine gets into the eggs because the chickens are fed feed doped with melamine (by feed producers to fool the farmers or is it farmers who are desperate for any nitrogen in the feed – I am guessing the former).

This phenomenon is called bioaccumulation (learn more) of toxins in eggs and tissues of animals fed a poison (think about how DDTs were making some birds go extinct due to DDT buildup in scavenger birds leading to egg failures). Its also known as Biomagnification (learn more)

An article out of China on two possible sources of melamine in chicken feed (“Melamine Scandal Hits China’s “King of Eggs” October 28, 2008 at

According to Wang, two reasons most probably account for the melamine in eggs. Feed producers may add melamine directly into chicken feed, or the feed may contain overdue milk powder with high level of melamine content. “Either can lead to melamine residue in eggs.

“Many illegal additives, appearing as “new technology,” have brought an unprecedented crisis over quality to China’s feed processing industry,” said an expert of a national research institution to China Business News.

This is why we grow our own chickens for our own eggs and drink milk from our own goats in our backyard

You can learn a whole lot more about the Chinese and US FDA inaction on the problem of toxic eggs from Chinese and potentially US producers by a former emergency programs specialist with the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on DailyKos at this diary “Melamine just reported in eggs…as I warned in 2007” and this diary “The ominous silence about eggs from gluten-fed chickens”

Is there an even larger crisis “we” are not talking about?

I am just going to throw this out for those of you who have had the tenacity to read to this point. This may be an algebra that will become critically important to the entire world as time passes.

– If we know that melamine has some nominal and sub-par attraction as a fertilizer
— Then it may be being used in China (elsewhere?) as a fertilizer

– If it is known that melamine falls out of solution and accumulates as salts in soils
— Then misguided use of melamine as a fertilizer and pesticide will lead to increasing retained toxin loads in soils across China and the world (3rd world countries?)

– If China has a melamine surplus
— Then China may be channeling that into even more melamine for local and misguided global use as a fertilizer, pesticide, and dope for feed stock (land and water livestocks such as fish farms that under massive pressure to source cheaper and more abundant protein)

– If there is a growing soil toxicity with yearly added melamine
— Then more and more crops will become and maintain dangerous levels of melamine toxicity
It seems to me that this is MUCH more relevant and dangerous than any GMO crop yet this crisis is flying totally under the radar.

To me, that is a global malfeasance on the part of all countries.

In one of those Daily Kos diaries, the comment stream reveals these nuggets:

The FDA, USDA, and the EPA is not our friend in these matters, especially Bush’s FDA, USDA, and EPA. For example, in 1999, the EPA tolerance level for melamine was lowered after a request by Novartis.

Melamine is also a breakdown product of cyromazine (pesticide) which bioaccumulates. It seems that (all?) the testing (ever?) done on cyromazine was done by Ciba-Geigy.

And there is this comment:

A few months ago, the Admin made subtle changes in oversight requirements for regs. If you aren’t familiar with reading this sort of language, you would not see flashing red lights – assuming you stayed awake past the first few lines.
Among the agencies affected was the FDA. Here are a few links to posts on these changes:
The Executive Order’s Effect on Regulation: Science & Technology Hearing;
White House Power Grab by OMB Regulation

Bottom Line(s):

  • DeGlobalize/ReLocalize your food, take it back America
  • Need I really say it? – EAT LOCALLY, ALWAYS
  • Eat NOTHING from China
  • Find out if your favorite prepared foods or even your fresh veggies and fruits are sourcing from China, they way well be
  • the FDA has grown VERY lax under the Bush administration and is not protecting us from this grave Chinese-related risk
  • Melamine contamination (and what else?) should be considered potentially widespread throughout our food system and that of others
  • The ubiquity of gluten, dairy, and egg products almost ensures widespread and nonconsensual exposure to these tainted source proteins in prepared foods and infant formulas
  • Be vigilant

Resource Pages:

About the Kjeldahl and Dumas tests:

Traditionally, food protein is measured by a method developed by Danish brewer Johann Kjeldahl in the late 1800s. In this analytical technique, a strong acid digests a sample, breaking down the organic matter and releasing nitrogen, which is then converted to ammonia. The amount of ammonia indicates how much nitrogen was in the original sample and, hence, the amount of protein. This “proved to be a robust, precise method,” says Julian McClements, a food scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It is attractive because it can be used for a variety of products and protein types. Another, similar nitrogen-based technique, called the Dumas test, is also popular with industry. It relies on burning the sample to release nitrogen. The Association of Analytical Communities (AOAC) International, a scientific association that sets standards for analytical methods, lists the Kjeldahl and Dumas techniques as the standard methods for measuring protein in food.