Tuesday, May 08, 2007

tastes like melamine

associated press reports that there could be melamine-spiked fish out there, just waiting to be eaten.

Farmed fish have been fed meal spiked with the same chemical that has been linked to the pet food recall, but the contamination was probably too low to harm anyone who ate the fish, federal officials said Tuesday.

animal feed (especially livestock feed, but apparently fish food as well) is made of all kinds of weird stuff: rendered animal carcasses, gluten from assorted grains, and apparently leftover pet food, too.

After pigs and chickens, the farmed fish mark the third food animal given contaminated feed. The level of contamination is expected to be too low to pose any danger to human health, said Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection.

It wasn't immediately clear if any of the farmed fish entered the food supply. However, Acheson said at least one firm's fish were still too young and small to be sold. Investigators were visiting other U.S. aquaculture farms that used the contaminated feed. Farmed fish typically are sold for direct consumption or for stocking lakes and streams.

Melamine, a chemical found in plastics and pesticides and not approved for use in pet or human in the U.S., contaminated pet food that either sickened or killed an unknown number of dogs and cats. Since March 16, more than 100 brands of pet food have been recalled because they were contaminated with melamine.

those chickens that ate melamine-spiked feed were right here in indiana. some of those chickens did make it into the food supply, but the rest have been quarantined and will not.

U.S. investigators also have learned that the purported Chinese wheat gluten and a second ingredient, rice protein concentrate, were actually simple wheat flour. The flour was spiked with melamine and related, nitrogen-rich compounds to make it appear more protein rich than it was. In tests, nitrogen levels are measured to gauge the overall protein content of food ingredients.

"What we discovered is these are not wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate but in fact are wheat flour contaminated by melamine," Acheson said.

The FDA is considering enforcement options, he added. The ingredients came from two Chinese firms: Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. and Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd.

The supposed wheat gluten was exported directly from China to Canada in a deal brokered by a U.S. company, ChemNutra Inc., Acheson said. ChemNutra also supplied the ingredient to a Canadian dog and cat food company, Menu Foods, that's since recalled dozens of brands.

Steve Stern, a ChemNutra spokesman, said the Las Vegas company actually only cobrokered the deal to supply wheat gluten to the fish meal producer: "We never owned it, we never sold it."

When asked why the company didn't disclose previously that it had had a part in that deal, Stern said: "I really haven't got an answer to that right now."

Menu Foods has said it faces more than 50 lawsuits. It in turn has sued ChemNutra. And the FDA has searched facilities belonging to both companies.

officials insist that the amount of melamine one might ingest from eating a melamine-laced fish plank or chicken breast should not be harmful to humans. and logic dictates that they're probably right. the amount of melamine in any contaminated feed would naturally be much lower and more diluted than it would be in pet food (and pets tend to eat only one kind of food), and presumably an amount that could harm a person would be more than enough to kill a much smaller chicken or fish. so realistically, you probably don't have much to fear from this, though of course no more contaminated meat should be allowed to enter the food supply.

furthermore (or perhaps i should say "however"), it would seem as though melamine on its own is not enough to cause any real damage. after all, the chinese have been pulling this melamine scam for some time now, so if melamine were truly dangerous we would likely have seen far more death than we have. this suggests that melamine might be relatively innocuous on its own, but in combination with some other as-yet-unidentified compound that was present in the contaminated pet food, becomes deadly, like so much smilex. but what is that other compound? we can't truly be sure of our safety until we know exactly what killed all those animals.

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