Milk, which was considered to be a primary source of nutrition for new born mammals before they are able to digest other types of foods, turned into poison for around 53,000 kids in China. The milk powder that was being sold in China was found to be contaminated with the industrial chemical “MELAMINE”.
Little over a month ago, melamine was known as the material used to make unbreakable plates and as an industrial additive. But since then it had gained considerable fame as a chemical which, when added to milk, boosted its protein level at the cost of damaging the consumer’s kidneys. China’s dairy farmers, eager to boost their milk sales, had been watering down their milk and then lacing it with melamine so that tests show the same protein content as unwatered milk.
Chemically melamine is an organic base and a trimer of cyanamide, with a 1,3,5-triazine skeleton. Melamine combines with cyanuric acid to form melamine cyanurate, which had been implicated in the Chinese protein export contaminations.
Melamine by itself is nontoxic in low doses, but when combined with cyanuric acid it can cause fatal kidney stones due to the formation of an insoluble melamine cyanurate . FDA scientists explained that when melamine and cyanuric acid are absorbed into the bloodstream, they concentrate and interact in the urine-filled renal microtubules, 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 . Melamine is reported to have an oral LD50 ( lethal dose, 50%) of 3248 mg/kg based on rat data. It is also an irritant when inhaled or in contact with the skin or eyes. The reported dermal LD50 is >1000 mg/kg for rabbits. In a 1945 study, large doses of melamine were given orally to rats, rabbits and dogs with “no significant toxic effects” observed . Ingestion of melamine may lead to reproductive damage, or bladder or kidney stones, which can lead to bladder cancer .
These have been several cases of melamine poisoning earlier as well. In 2007 a pet food recall was initiated by Menu Foods and other pet food manufacturers who had found their products had been contaminated and caused serious illnesses or deaths in some of the animals that had eaten them . In March 2007, the US Food and Drug Administration reported finding white granular melamine in the pet food, in samples of white granular wheat gluten imported from a single source in China, Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology as well as in crystalline form in the kidneys and in urine of affected animals. Another recall incident in 2007 involved melamine which had been purposely added as a binder to fish and livestock feed manufactured in the United States. This was traced to suppliers in Ohio and Colorado .
Coming back to the recent melamine scandal in China, the milk quality has been greatly improved after the nationwide campaign. However the question that is still to be answered is that before an imported food or pharmaceutical product, including milk, is allowed to be distributed/put on the shelves on supermarkets and pharmacies, it should first be registered with and tested by BFAD? Who is responsible for approving and declaring such products safe for human consumption?