July 06, 2007

Melamine

From Jo Robinson at Eatwild.com. Cheap food, isn't so cheap.

Cheap Meat: An Accident Waiting to Happen
The latest fiasco in the U.S. livestock industry is that 20 million chickens, thousands of hogs, and an unknown number of farmed fish have been raised on feed contaminated with melamine, the chemical that made headline news when it got into pet food and sickened tens of thousands of cats and dogs. According to the USDA, meat from hogs and chickens fed melamine has already entered our food supply.

How did this happen? The story begins in China. Melamine is an inexpensive by-product of the coal industry. In a deceptive practice, Chinese producers have been mixing melamine with certain feed ingredients in order to inflate their protein content. (Melamine is not a protein and has no food value, but it mimics protein on standardized laboratory tests.) Melamine costs less than true sources of protein, so the manufacturers make more money.

The story continues in the United States. In order to lower the cost of production, U.S. pet food manufacturers have been importing cheap protein meal from China. Unbeknownst to the manufacturers, recent shipments have been spiked with melamine. As a result, thousands of pets became sick or died.

Now we get to the pigs, chickens, and fish. A common cost-cutting practice in the livestock industry is to supplement animal feed with floor sweepings and other remnants from pet food plants. The sweepings contain enough meal to offer some nutritional value. But recently, the sweepings have also been laced with melamine. In this serpentine fashion, a toxic chemical that was first added to pet food found its way to our very own tables.

The USDA does not foresee any health consequences from eating melamine-spiced pork, poultry, and fish. Hopefully, this will prove to be true. But as long as we feed our animals on a “least-cost” basis, we risk a host of problems, ranging from minor contamination with an industrial chemical to mad cow disease. The solution is to raise our livestock on their native diets or on quality ingredients that match their original diets as closely as possible. We are what our animals eat.

Posted by rich at July 6, 2007 01:53 PM