Melamine has been at the centre of a scandal in China over the past fortnight following the deaths of a number of babies who had drunk formula milk containing the chemical. However, some Chinese pigs have also been given contaminated feed, leading to fears that traces could still be present in finished meat, according to Chris Edwards, head of dairy training and development at Reaseheath College. Melamine can cause reproductive damage and bladder and kidney stones, and is particularly harmful to infants with undeveloped immune systems.
“What hasn’t been examined is if there are harmful agents in the meat supply,” he said. “I’m not convinced that enforcement is as strong as it could be.”
Last year, contaminated Chinese protein exports including dog and cat food had to be recalled, but this attracted less attention as “no-one cares about pets”, claimed Edwards.
The milk scandal has hit some of the world’s biggest dairy companies, with Nestlé and Friesland Foods both forced into making public statements stressing the safety of their products. The crisis reached the UK this week, with Tesco removing Chinese-made White Rabbit Candies due to their melamine content. Edwards played down fears that contaminated products could reach the UK.
“In advanced countries these incidents would have been picked up by food standards agencies. But in emerging countries such as China, some people are trying to cut corners.”
Too many manufacturers in developing countries were using melamine to illicitly boost product values, claimed Edwards.
“The use of melamine in milk production is driven by greed,” he said. “It is often used to bypass government protocols to disguise the fraudulent use of water, which is added to increase milk volume. It is also used to increase protein levels so producers can command a higher price per litre.”