May 23, 2007 Edition

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Food for thought

Vivian Heyl
TD Staff

Over the past few months most of us have had reason to doubt our food supply. First it was spinach and lettuce, then peanut butter, and then we heard about how unsafe the food was that we were feeding our pets. Recent findings have been even scarier as we find that the same unsafe products may also be in our own food.

Melamine keeps popping up in news reports over and over again. To most baby boomers, melamine means a cheap set of plastic dishes that were popular when we were kids. Today, however, it is also being used to boost the appearance of protein levels in food additives being imported from China.

I don't think many of us ever thought we'd be eating the stuff we once ate off of, but as it turns out our food manufacturers may also be putting food-grade wheat gluten and vegetable protein additives containing melamine into their products.

Chinese manufacturers are using melamine to make it appear as though the products they are manufacturing are higher in protein than they actually are so that they can get a better price for an inferior product.

When the pet food story hit the news in April we were all assured that it did not pose any threat to people. It was also theorized that it only affected our pets because they are smaller than we are and usually eat a diet consisting only of a particular food, while we eat a much more varied diet.

Then came the reports that not only did these fillers contain melamine but they also contained cyanuric acid and together these compounds had formed a deadly combination, which resulted in the deaths of dogs and cats from renal failure.

Next we learned that these compounds have also been found in the feed used by the poultry and hog industries as well as in the farm-raised fish industry.

During a tele-news conference held by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on April 26 a reporter asked about the risk to humans from melamine and what level of contamination is acceptable and at what point it was not acceptable.

Dr. Dan McChesney with the Food and Drug Administration responded that the FDA currently does not know what the tolerance is for the compounds melamine or cyanuric acid and because of that there is no acceptable level.

The FDA and the USDA's official stance is that the threat to humans from any form of toxicity from contamination by melamine and cyanuric acid in our food supply is so low that it is deemed non-existent. Meanwhile the FDA has said that they will begin testing products for melamine and cyanuric acid contamination, and they have also asked the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to be on the lookout for an increase in people dying with renal failure, just in case.

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