November 2008

China dispatches 5,000 inspectors in milk scandal

Putting melamine into milk powder and baby formula makes it look richer, healthier, and helps it pass tests scrutinizing protein content.

Of course, by now we all know that one should not ingest the chemical. What is melamine? It is an organic base with a 1,3,5-triazine skeleton. It contains 66% nitrogen by mass and mixed with resins, has fire retardant properties due to its release of nitrogen gas when it burns.

By combining melamine with formaldehyde, one produces melamine resin, a very durable thermosetting plastic, and melamine foam, a polymeric cleaning product. Some recognizable consumer products include countertops, dry erase boards, fabrics, glues, house wares, and flame-retardants.

By adding melamine to food products, one can increase the apparent protein content of that food. Standard tests estimate protein levels by measuring the nitrogen content, so they can be misled by adding nitrogen-rich compounds such as melamine.

As early as last year The New York Times reported the addition of "melamine scrap" into fish and livestock feed to give the false appearance of a higher level of protein was an "open secret" in many parts of mainland China, reporting this melamine scrap was being produced by at least one plant processing coal into melamine.

Shortly thereafter, the paper reported, despite the widely reported ban on melamine use in vegetable proteins in mainland China, at least some chemical manufacturers continued to report selling it for use in animal feed and in products for human consumption.

Now, Agence France-Presse reports, China has ordered more than 5,000 inspectors to stand at its dairy factories because China's tainted milk scandal continued to impact countries as far away as South America.

The nation's food safety watchdog dispatched the round-the-clock inspectors to dairy factories across the country to make sure produce complies with food safety standards.

So far, tainted milk has sickened 53,000 children and killed four in China, and has put a spotlight on the country's lax food safety standards.