In fact, in today’s NYTimes article reporting the latest on the pet food scandal, a Chinese chemical company manager made just such a claim (well, more that melamine can be used in baking than that it’s tasty; the chemical, as it happens, is flavorless). The spiked feed is slowly making its way through our food supply, so far by way of chickens and pigs. It’s not even all that toxic to humans, although it’s possible it might cause kidney stones, cancer, or reproductive damage. We are probably at greater risk from E. Coli poisoning than getting sick from melamine, but that gives scant comfort to millions of nervous pet owners.
One outcome of this crisis will likely be much more FDA oversight into food imports; another will be a tremendous uptick in organic pet food and the like. What we are equally interested in is the impact on China and its trustworthiness in global commerce. At first, China disputed claims that its exports were at all at fault, but quickly backed down from this position amid growing evidence and international fervor. No two ways about it: Chinese companies were dumping industrial chemicals into their wheat gluten to up the protein count and increase profits. At the time, this was not illegal in China! Only last Friday did China ban melamine in food products for export and for domestic human consumption.
Given that melamine has no nutritional value and is only used in food products to increase profit, it’s a wonder that it was permitted in the first place…or not. But following the ban, the NYTimes reports (in the same article) that “chemical companies in China continue to say they sell melamine scrap to animal feed companies and even to food companies that make bakery items.”
For better or worse, this is how we read it:
1) China’s regard for safety and quality control seems to kick in only when such measures are profitable
2) China has a lot of trouble controlling its explosive and corrupt private sector
3) China is going to lose a lot of face (and trade) over this.
Personally, we hope this does not affect our monthly shipment of bird’s nest, which we use for soup.