Tests conducted at a US Food & Drug Administration laboratory on behalf of the Arkansas Department of Health & Human Services have detected melamine in at least one sample of imported Chinese catfish. And while officials are downplaying the health hazard, this latest finding suggests that the human food supply is much more widely contaminated than previously acknowledged.
Not that this should come as a surprise. Back on April 1, when I first started covering this story at length, I wrote:
Unless and until the FDA determines otherwise, one cannot help but wonder if our sick and dying cats are merely the canary in the coal mine alerting us to a broader contamination of the human food supply.
Three weeks later, when we learned that melamine had tainted chickens, I congratulated myself on my prescience and specifically warned that “a huge swath of our food supply has been compromised … including farmed fish.” Then on May 8, after more details of our expanding food safety crisis had emerged, I elaborated:
According to recent studies, 81-percent of America’s seafood is imported, and about 40-percent of that is farmed. China is the world’s aquaculture leader, accounting for about 70-percent of global production. It is also a major U.S. supplier of farm-raised shrimp, catfish, tilapia, carp, clams, eel and other aquaculture products.
We now know that it is common practice in China to spike the nitrogen level of livestock feed by adulterating the product with both scrap melamine and scrap cyanuric acid. And it has also been widely reported that this contaminated feed is routinely used in China’s burgeoning aquaculture industry.
[…] Fish physiology can leave them particularly prone to bio-accumulating certain contaminants, and the nature of common aquaculture practices tends to exacerbate the problem. Farmed seafood raised on a steady diet of contaminated feed would surely retain some of the toxins in its flesh. But as far as we know, no imported Chinese aquaculture products have yet been tested.
Well, now imported Chinese seafood has been tested, and the results are disturbing. FDA tested Chinese catfish from four Arkansas wholesale distributors, and found detectable levels in at least one sample. Having recently passed Vietnam to become the largest exporter of farmed catfish to the US, China is on target to deliver over 20,000 tons in 2007. If contamination was rare, a positive test would be like finding a needle in a haystack, but considering what we now know about the widespread use of melamine-adulterated fish feed in China, a one-in-four chance strikes me as just about right.
USDA and FDA officials continue to insist that melamine-tainted poultry, pork and seafood is safe to eat and that contamination levels pose no risk to human health. But they simply do not know (or will not tell us) how widespread the contamination is, whether melamine accumulates over time in human kidneys or other organs, what other toxins may have been contained in the melamine scrap, and exactly how melamine interacts with cyanuric acid and other contaminants within the human body.
What we do know is that thousands of dogs and cats dropped dead after eating melamine-tainted pet food — some within only a meal or two of consuming the poisoned product. And the FDA’s own Protein Surveillance Assignment warns that chronic exposure to melamine “may cause cancer or reproductive damage,” and specifically instructs that “pregnant women should not perform this assignment.”
The media may have lost interest in the food safety crisis, but the story continues to unfold, much of it predictably. If farm-raised Chinese seafood is contaminated, it seems likely that so is Chinese poultry, pork and beef. And if multiple Chinese manufacturers were selling melamine-spiked gluten and protein concentrate to US importers as “human food grade,” then surely Chinese food manufacturers have been similarly duped as well. Given the facts (and human nature) there is every reason to believe that Chinese manufactured processed foods are sitting on the shelf today with detectable levels of melamine — and no doubt, have been for years.
And that’s just the melamine. From toxic levels of diethylene glycol in children’s toothpaste, to antibiotics in fish, to “filthy,” “unsafe” and “falsely” labeled products, China’s burgeoning yet largely unregulated food industry is reaching out to threaten consumers worldwide.
It was not a lucky guess that led me to suspect Chinese aquaculture products, but an informed one. Don’t be surprised when this story gets much worse.
Roger Rabbit spews:
Next they’ll find melamine in human body parts imported from China.
Roger Rabbit spews:
In case you didn’t know, a lot of kidneys used in transplants were “made in China.” They were “harvested” from political prisoners.
Roger Rabbit spews:
Maybe the Birchers were right. Maybe we shoulda nuked ’em back in ’53.
Catfish? I thought they were yucky enough when their last meail was most likely an old tire.
3 We may be about to see whether that works with the Iranians.
1 Hey…maybe that was the idea behind that…uhhhh…”art” exhibit. Feed ’em enough plastic and you can bury ’em standing up.
Thanks to the idiot in the WH, China is holding a good chunk of our national debt. I doubt that bush will want to piss on China just because they are sending us a little tainted food for the masses and our pets. I’m sure he and Condasleaza are not eating it!
China has been a big lender to the US for many, many years. Even before GWB showed up.
Lots of nations buy US bonds – they’re safe and predictable. Not a lot of growth potential, however.
Richard Pope spews:
Rabbit @ 3
Unfortunately, the Birchers don’t seem to be picking up on this story. There is nothing about it on their website:
It is time for a Nation-wide boycott of any food products that are being imported from China.
Goldy should lead the charge!
Goldy – you are certainly on track on this subject with your output in the right orifice!!
Elizabeth Philbin spews:
So…have the Chinese been eating all this contaminated food? I suppose we’ll never know. They seem to consider their citizens as expendable.
art @6…now that’s a classic!
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The U.S. military is joining forces with the State Department to prepare a new Iraq strategy that includes negotiating cease-fire and power-sharing agreements with some enemy combatants, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
If Democrats suggested to do this, every Republican would be up in arms, accusing them of being unpatriotic.
I thought the Republican mantra was not to negotiate with Terrorists.
Talk about a flip-flop.
Proud To Be An Ass spews:
“Unfortunately, the Birchers don’t seem to be picking up on this story. There is nothing about it on their website:”
They still exist? Pity.
Proud To Be An Ass spews:
“If Democrats suggested to do this, every Republican would be up in arms, accusing them of being unpatriotic.”
They are up in arms. They are always ‘up in arms’. They have nothing else. Being called ‘unpatriotic’ by the scum known as the ‘GOP’ is a badge of honor.
Wear it proudly.
Boycott Chinese Imports spews:
“China Investigates Contaminated Toothpaste” NYTimes 5/21/07
Chinese authorities are investigating whether two companies from this coastal region exported tainted toothpaste as more contaminated product, including some made for children, has turned up in Latin America. Dominican Republic said they seized 36,000 tubes of toothpaste suspected of containing diethylene glycol, an industrial solvent and prime ingredient in some antifreeze. Included were tubes of toothpaste marketed for children with bubble gum and strawberry flavors sold under the name of “Mr. Cool Junior.”
The Chinese should use their own toothpaste for population control.
Roger Rabbit spews:
5 Bush wouldn’t start a war with Iran without getting Congress’ permission … er, would he?
Roger Rabbit spews:
@8 Wingnut Defense of Bush Irresponsibility #13: “Bush isn’t doing anything the Democrats didn’t do.”
The Democrats never sold nearly so much debt to China, or nearly so fast, nor did they ever run up Bush-size deficits. This tar baby (China holding a large percentage of our national debt over our heads like a sword of Damocles) is strictly a made-in-GOP phenomenon.
here is a letter i sent to the FDA/USDA:
1. What is considered a safe level of melamine in meat products and fish?
2. What is the range of levels you are finding?
3. Have you analyzed a random sample of milk, cheese, eggs?
4. Do you even have a method to measure such levels?
5. Why did you approve chicken and fish for human consumption when you had no assay for measuring cyanuric acid?
6. How can you even be sure you are looking for all of the lethal contaminants since the alleged melamine was of a scrap nature and likely contaminated with many compounds?
7. Have you analyzed human wheat flour products for melamine and melamine related contamination?
8. Why are you not keeping the public informed of your progress as you go along? Wouldn’t it be more ethical to let the public decide based on the latest data? This is supposed to be a free market system.
9. How can you be sure that melamine/cyanuric crystals do not lodge in the organs and over time cause disease? Can you learn all of that in a weeklong investigation?
10. Are milk protein concentrates contaminated?
11. If you do not know what percent of melamine the mixture of livestock feed was contaminated with, how do you know to what degree it has been diluted in the organism? This can only be guesswork unless you have a ratio. Is that “evidence” sound enough for the USDA stamp of approval?
If I do not have a right to know the specifics about the food you are telling me it is safe to eat, please give me one reason why? I can hardly believe I have to ask this question. It truly is a Brave New World. I really feel you are doing an irreversible disservice to the American people and even the world by not standing up to China. I know politics are involved, but contaminated food is contaminated food. No one, except you, the Chinese, and the FDA, can argue with that. I ask you as an American Citizen to recall the food that can be traced and stop allowing contaminated food into the grocery stores.
Please do not further insult me by sending me a link to your diluted press releases. I have read them over and over, and these answers are not there. I want more than a “trust us, eat it.” By the way, I am only eating organic, so I am not just asking for my own food safety. It’s the principle of the matter.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable. What is crazy is that they won’t tell us anything substantial and are advising us to eat the evidence before the final data comes in. What is this? Maybe the FDA really is the Federal Depopulation Association.
Roger Rabbit spews:
@13 Anyone who thinks Goldy is Roger Rabbit must have a brain encased in plastic.
Who says it is bad that China hold US debt? This is just a BS talking point that politicians like to bring up. Them holding US backed paper does not make us beholden to them beyond what the paper says.
Listen to what a real person that understands economics says rather than shrill politicians.
Who is the Upton Sinclair of the Chinese? Find him and pay his bills so he write; get him a publisher.
Re national debt, seems that Clinton had taken the debt down, it’s out of control with idiot bush. The sob takes us into a bogus war (costly in terms of money and lives) without raising taxes on his rich pals.
This reminds me of one of the original Saturday Night Live skits where they were parodying a TV commercial for a multi-purpose floor cleaner called “Sparkle” or something. The actors were shown cleaning the floor with it, saying I can mop the floor with it, I use it as a dessert topping, etc.
And now melamine: It’s an industrial plasticizer, and a seed coat, and a fertilizer, and a livestock feed component, and a USDA approved food additive.
Or aminopterin: It’s a cancer drug, and a genetic marker in GMO crops, and a rat poison, and an ingredient in pet food, and currently being evaluated as a safe human food additive.
Cyanuric acid: I use it to stablize the chlorine levels in the pool, I cook with it–you see where I am going here. Fact is stranger than fiction–and more bizarre than drug- influenced 1970 or 1980 comedies. God help us!
Unconsionable Stamp of Diluted Aggregates!
gee…me thinks goldyroger doth protest too much…and too often.
typical goldy…..can’t hold his water.LOL
Looking at the article, I’m sure there were a more than four samples analyzed. They did fish from a number of different sources (I counted >6, see the last paragraph of the linked article) from four different dates. I am thinking that at least 20 samples were analyzed. I’m going to go see if they have anything posted at FDA about it.
MRS RABBIT spews:
#26 CHRISTMAS GRINCH:
I AM MRS. RABBIT AND BELIEVE ME I WOULD KNOW IF HE MORPHED INTO GOLDY. BECAUSE HE WOULD HAVE SMALLER FEET, LESS HAIR AND BE EVEN CUTER THAN HE ALREADY IS.
Thomas Wilson spews:
I am a fish nutritionist working for a company in Thailand.
My company produces both fish feed and shrimp feed for domestic aquaculture here.
I am most concerned about feed quality and feed consistency,because this directly effects the results the farmer obtains when he uses our products.
I rarely buy Chinese raw materials because I am looking for cheaper costs. I don’t trust the consistency and I most certainly don’t believe documents from Chinese suppliers, especially concerning heavy metals.
Heavy metals are a serious problem in Chinese agricultural products. A meeting in China last year admitted that more than 12 million metric tons (US ton x 2.2) of Chinese cereals (wheat corn rice) are contaminated with heavy metals (lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic), and that more than 10% of Chinese farmland is polluted with heavy metals. The economic loss to China is huge, but the main driving force for change now is the rapidly increasing incidence of cancer in China.
The question I ask myself, is — If I were Chinese and I knew that the agricultural products were unfit for human consumption, would I (1) destroy them, (2) feed them to people as if they were safe, (3) feed them to animals, or (4)export them?
Your guess is as good as mine, but I think they would not be destroyed. My guess is they would lie about the levels of heavy metals in their documents, and (1) export them, or (2) feed them to animals. In any case, the heavy metals will probably enter the food chain somewhere.
I unfortunately have to buy some materials from China, since for example, European supermarkets mostly want non-GMO ingredients in feed for shrimp that are to be exported to Europe. I can buy non-GMO corn gluten meal only from China.
In some cases, factories in western countries have closed because they could not compete with Chinese prices, so it is getting harder to find non-Chinese sources of some raw materials.
I installed equipment in my lab to check heavy metals, mainly to check Chinese raw materials. I thought this was the only thing I needed to worry about
However, now we have the melamine problem in our hands in the USA (and also melamine in Chinese corn gluten meal in South Africa).
We buy Chinese wheat gluten to use in shrimp feed, but I don’t think we would get caught the way the feed producers in the US were. The reason is we use wheat gluten to help to make shrimp feed stable in water for 2-3 hours. We test the gluten by washing it to remove all of the starch, knead it for a while, and measure the amount of water the gluten absorbs. If it doesn’t meet our standard, we don’t unload it from the truck. There is no way fake wheat gluten (wheat flour + 20% melamine) would pass this test.
There is a certain amount of culpability in the US, because no one in the ingredients chain actually confirmed that the product was actually wheat gluten.
The fake glycerol used in cough syrup in Panama that killed more than 100 people – which passed from the producer to a trader in Shanghai, another trader in Spain, another trader in Panama before it ended up in the government’s medicine factory was not checked by anyone to see whether it was actually glycerol. Why Not? Is it that there seems to be too much trust, or is it rather that testing everything is too much trouble and costs money.
The USDA/FDA’s ALERT program is to remind food and feed producers that they should not forget they have substantial responsibility to ensure their raw materials and final products are safe.
Today in USA Today, there is an article
stating that Chinese officials said foreign companies are to blame for looking for cheaper and cheaper and cheaper raw materials. Well, in my opinion, the competitiveness of the food retail and food service industries in the and elsewhere partly to blame, driving prices down to attract customers.
In the end all of us as consumers have to decide – when is cheap too cheap? While we are trying to make ends meet, and buying on low price, we are almost certainly going to be buying an imported product, and when do we start picking up undetected or hidden risks to our health and the health of our families (banned chemicals, chemical residues, heavy metals, filth etc.)
Thai Govt agencies, including the Livestock Dept. and Fisheries Dept, as well as the animal feed producers association are working full time to find a way to check raw materials here, are surveying all feed producers for the possibility that they could have been using melamine -contaminated raw materials.
They (as well as everyone else around the world) are trying to find equipment to set up testing for melamine as soon as possible. They want to reassure customers overseas that Thai feed and products such as pork, chicken, fish and shrimp are safe. If you don’t want to buy Chinese (just like me) then I think buying Thai would be safer.
Thailand signed a free trade agreement with China, and cheap Chinese vegetables are flooding in and killing off all of the local producers, but I told my wife to support Thai farmers. US citizens should do the same. Then the US trade imbalance with China would be history.
Anyway, I cannot speak for the whole aquaculture industry here in Thailand, but certainly the part of the aquaculture industry I am aware of is very concerned about the quality and safety of the food we produce.
Thanks for reading
That was a very informative post #29 and thank you very much. Too bad you can’t get a job with the FDA/USDA. You might actually make a difference. You seem to actually have intelligence and ethics. We need more people like you.