The New York Times:
Who knows what kind of shit is adulterating our imported and domestic food supply? But whatever it is, it’s about to hit the fan.
Months after dogs and cats started dropping dead of renal failure from melamine-tainted pet food, American consumers are beginning to learn how long and how wide this contaminant has also poisoned the human food supply. Last week, as California officials revealed that at least 45 people are known to have eaten tainted pork, the USDA announced that it would pay farmers millions of dollars to destroy and dispose of thousands of hogs fed “salvaged” pet food.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Through the salvaging practice, melamine-tainted pet food has likely contaminated America’s livestock for as long as it has been killing and sickening America’s pets — as far back as August of 2006, or even earlier. And while it may seem alarmist to suggest without absolute proof that Americans have been eating melamine-tainted pork, chicken and farm-raised fish for the better part of a year, the FDA and USDA seem to be preparing to brace Americans for the worst. In an unusual, Saturday afternoon joint press release, the regulators tasked with protecting the safety of our nation’s food supply go to convoluted lengths to reassure the public that eating melamine-tainted pork is perfectly safe.
In a fit of reverse-homeopathy the press release steps us through the dilution process, tracing the path of melamine-tainted rice protein through the food system. The rice protein is a partial ingredient in pet food, we are told, which is itself only a partial ingredient in the feed given to hogs, who then “excrete” some of the melamine in their urine. And, “even if present in pork,” they reassure us, “pork is only a small part of the average American diet.”
How comforting. But the press release reaches its Orwellian best in its insistence that there is no evidence of any “human illness” due to melamine exposure:
“While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention systems would have limited ability to detect subtle problems due to melamine and melamine-related compounds, no problems have been detected to date.”
Translation: “We are unable to detect such problems, but don’t worry, no such problems have been detected.”
It is hard to read this as anything but a preemptive press release, a calculated effort to reassure the public that it is safe to eat trace quantities of melamine… just days before they inevitably reveal that Americans have in fact been consuming it unawares for months. Menu Foods, the company at the center of the controversy, has recalled product dating back to November 8, 2006. Manufacturing forty to fifty percent of America’s wet pet food, the salvaged product from their massive operations must have surely contaminated livestock feed nationwide.
Here at the Shandong Mingshui Great Chemical Group factory, huge boiler vats are turning coal into melamine, which is then used to create plastics and fertilizer. But the leftover melamine scrap, golf ball-size chunks of white rock, is sometimes being sold to local agricultural entrepreneurs, who say they mix a powdered form of the scrap into animal feed to deceive those who raise animals into thinking they are buying feed that is high in protein.
“It just saves money if you add melamine scrap,” said the manager of an animal feed factory here.
Last Friday here in Zhangqiu, a fast-growing industrial city southeast of Beijing, two animal feed producers explained in great detail how they purchase low-grade wheat, corn, soybean or other proteins and then mix in small portions of nitrogen-rich melamine scrap, whose chemical properties help the feed register an inflated protein level.
Photo by Ariana Lindquist for The New York Times
Update: Make that 16 years.