Over-reaction to melamine in China milk?

Until Sep 9, few who use the word “melamine” would have associated it with food, especially with something as pervasive in the food chain as milk. For me, be4 the current scare, melamine had always meant the hardy plastic crockery that simulates china-ware right down to the patterns.

Since then, all hell has broken loose and a cyclone of panic appears to be sweeping the world, with ever-widening lists of countries throwing out a seemingly never-ending catalogue of China-related milk and milk products. 

alarming news galore

alarming news galore

In Singapore, there are lists of the “banned” products circulating among friends: I’ve received a few lists, with one set purporting to relate to recall issued by a leading supermarket chain. If u contact me, i cld share with you the lists with the caveat I don’t know if they are official or just a guestimate.

A quick glance thru the lists tells me I’ve eaten none of the stuff. But even if I have been pigging myself on those things, am I likely to feel the dire effects that’s panicking half the world and more?

Listen to what our Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has to say abt consuming melamine contaminated foods based on the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) of melamine established by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) :

An adult weighing 60 kg or a child weighing 30 kg can ingest 37.8 mg of melamine and 18.9 mg of melamine respectively every day over a lifetime without any appreciable health risk.

‘We would also like to assure the public that the levels of melamine detected in the products are low and hence unlikely to result in adverse health effects,’ AVA said.

‘Consumers have to consume large quantities of the contaminated products over a prolonged period of time to have any potential ill effects on health.’

A child weighing 30kg would have to consume 322ml – about the volume of a canned soft drink – daily over a lifetime to be in any danger. By extension, an adult of double the weight would need to consumer the equivalent of two cans of melamine daily over a lifetime to be in similar danger.

Fact is, who would be gorging melamine “tainted” drinks and foodstuff daily to the extent that the melamine “taint” ingested would add up to as much as a drink can’s worth? And that’s to be done over a life-time. And even then it is to be in danger’s way, not 100% clad proof of danger.

It’s probably akin to people who don’t wash their cutlery and crockery properly for a life-time and hence are daily ingesting trace amounts of detergent: won’t be a recommendation for healty living but surely wouldn’t amount to slow poisoning?

So it seems to me the worldwide reaction, including that in China, to what happened to the tens of thousands of babies in China smacks of hysteria of the kind prevalent in the Middle Ages when witches were burnt regularly if harvests went wrong or a cloud of locusts attacked.

Sure, thousands of babies who drank the contaminated milk are said to be sick; about half a dozen died.

But could it not be that these poor tykes were poisoned by a batch of milk that had been unfortunately (for the victims) been “enhanced” by a larger than usual dose of melamine?

In fact, now that tests on China’s milk and milk-related products have turned out melamine everywhere, shouldn’t some of the more popular non-China sourced milk and milk-related products be subjected to the same tests to prove and reassure that melamine isn’t a common additive used by food manufacturers?

I think back to the time when I first discovered non-dairy creamer and how much I liked to have it in my coffee, till a colleague told me that it was made from feedstock.

I didn’t believe him but that nevertheless took away my enjoyment. And while I’ve not 4sworn off non-dairy creamers or the 3-in-1 coffee sachets that are nowadays so ubiquitous, I often wonder what they are made of.

In view of the brouhaha caused by the China milk scare, I decided to google Coffee Mate, the grandmother of all non-dairy creamers and this is what I’ve found:

“…It has always seem odd to me that people who spend a specialized price for some specialized brand or blend of coffee would add artificial ingredients to it – particularly non-dairy ‘whiteners’ like Coffee Mate. I decided that they couldn’t all be damaged (those coffee drinkers, that is) so I decided to try the product myself to see if I was missing something. Yes – but it was a lot like missing gallstones, impetigo or leprosy. ….

“Originally developed to create a non-dairy substitute that did not require refrigeration for coffee, Coffee Mate, made and marketed by the international conglomerate, Nestle, it has become ubiquitously available in just about every venue where coffee is sold. Yes, it lightens the color of your coffee. No, it does not require refrigeration and the expiration date on the package currently in front of me is just over two years from now – and this is not a recent purchase.

“A quick look at the ingredients goes a long way towards explaining it’s longevity – if not it’s seeming popularity. The “Original” variety (it is also available in a “Light” version) contains the following plethora of mouth-watering ingredients: Corn syrup solids, Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut, palm kernel or hydrogenated soybean), sodium caseinate (a milk derivative but not a source of lactose), Dipotassium phosphate, mono- and digycerides, artificial flavor and annatto color….

“It is promoted as milk substitute in recipes for many foods and as a generally applicable dairy substitute. So, what is it that is intended to look like (once dissolved), smell and taste like milk – but actually accomplishes non of these – yet remains in most homes, work places and coffee shops?

“Why Coffee Mate of course. A great example of chemistry and food combining to make something valueless that reduces the value of whatever else it comes in contact with. I’m sure there are many better choices. This stuff is simply a chemical white-out for bad coffee…”

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22 thoughts on “Over-reaction to melamine in China milk?

  1. Who is writing this? What medical qualifications do you have? Actually what kind of education if any do you have? Shall we feed you and your children this? I cant believe it.

  2. Gina, I don’t know who the heck u r either. No need to be offensive or personal.

    All I’m saying is how do we KNOW that melamine isn’t added to every darned thing but in trace amounts? And that what happened in China could have been an accidental overkill.. so tests shld be done with some non-China sourced milk n milk products to start with.. be4 we single out China as the sole culprit in this universe doing such things!

  3. I do not have any medical qualifications either but I do not see any cause for alarm…as generally I do not take milk everyday (Black coffee’s my cup of tea!). Only when cooking, I’ll use evaporated to replace coconut milk which they say is not good for health! Now I can just go back to good ol’ santan! I don’t eat chocs nor ice cream often…so I don’t feel threatened by the current situation. Babies and toddlers drink a lot of milk…several times every day, so I guess they are in greater danger.

  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melamine

    So it’s not licensed and is actually ILLEGAL for use in any food product. Doesn’t matter at all whether there are ‘trace’ amounts / if there was an ‘accidental’ addition of too much / if it takes xx amount of ingested melamine to cause any significant harm. The point is: yes there IS a reason for the ‘overreaction’ the rest of the world has, because it is not MEANT to be added to ANY food products in the first place, so of course when the news is out, the uproar is to be expected.

    If Coffeemate is evil and should not be used, then the same argument applies surely for any non-organic food product that has preservatives/chemicals. Then again, so far there has not been any tests that have proven any evidence of illegal harmful additives in Coffeemate, so i’m afraid the comparison to melamine in Baby milk is rather poor.

  5. Addendum: to be honest, if one wants to complain about any related issues, complain about the ongoing license of tobacco in cigarettes despite the overwhelming evidence of its association with numerous health risks. The only thing worth complaining about WRT melamine issue is how bloody unscrupulous/undereducated/greedy/despicable etc etc etc the manufacturers of the milk are to actually add that to a food product that is consumed in huge proportions by people and infants.

  6. Are you the Areya fm days of new Internet freedom, and in the “entourage” of Synette, Kucinta et al? If so, welcome! I miss yr site!

    I think you may have missed what I’ve been trying to say: and that is, how do we know other products, esp milk/milk related, across the world aren’t similarly tainted? So with what’s happened in China, shldn’t some of us ask for milk/milk related products fm other countries to be tested too…since surely not all the milk/milk related products in the six continents come solely from China?

    Thanks fr yr visit and comments, nevertheless.

  7. To Suituapui: Thanks Pacik for joining in to give me a bit of support. Yes, I understand wholly abt the sentiment regarding babies. And perhaps the elderly too, should all those milk formulas for those who can take only milk formulas, shld some of these also be found to be contaminated…

  8. I think I’m the same person you’re talking about unless there are more people who use the same alias 🙂

    I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but I do know for a fact that the governing body in the EU for food standards do follow extremely strict guidelines, plus the fact that the same standards have to be agreed upon and applied across quite a large no. of countries that are pretty much all milk-producing, it will be difficult for them to miss and virtually unlikely for them to turn a blind eye to producers who add any substance equivalent to melamine – imagine the furor it will cause when some hypochondriac finds out and announces it to press. I can only assume that the rest of the Western world follows equally, if not more, stringent rules. Unfortunately, at the risk of sounding racist/supremist, China does not seem to operate at the same level, for whatever reason :/ I do get your point though.

    I shall continue lurking around websites, including yours 😉

  9. Hi Areya: Good to re-connect again. I miss those whimsically designed websites of yrs in the days when CMS wasn’t as common as, dare I say it, food scares? And hard-coding was often the way to get the best results…

    Anyway, I guess China is still on the learning curve and the world should be more forgiving, not because we are Chinese/they are Chinese (racist dichotomy) but because everyone deserves at least a 2nd chance. Also, because others have erred and been given a 2nd chance.

    U are probably too young (it happened in 1985) to remember the Austrian wine scandal when it was found out that the makers there had added anti-freeze to the wine!

    Today, with wine drinking so ubiquitous and wine-making methods so advance and diverse, who knows whether someone hasn’t already helpfully enhanced the grape juice. It cld be the Chinese again or it cld be anyone else… sigh!

  10. Them good old days of html from scratch. Who can be bothered these days, eh? 🙂

    I know about the anti-freeze thing. Well, nowadays the things I’ve heard being put into wine are ‘extras’ to increase the alcohol content, and possibly colourings. Those are rather quickly run to ground by the FSA. But, don’t worry about the wine – at least from the old world. What I’ve learned from extended-extended in laws who have a background of farming/vineyard producing: get them from reputable vineyards with a good history and get only good ones. You will surely be safe 🙂 Too bad S’pore has such high import tax on wine. I get my crates from a wine club that has excellent prices for award winning bottles. I think they may possibly ship abroad. If you’re interested, http://www.laithwaites.co.uk is the website.

  11. HTML: knowing how to tweak the javascript, CSS etc is actually quite useful when the need arises, but nowadays like u say, who bothers when there are so many beautiful templates to choose from!

    Thanks for the wine merchant recommendation. Will remember it and pass the link to friends who are particularly fussy abt provenance.

    Lastly, can give me link to yr present website? Or if u don’t want to many to know, send via my eml contact? Thanks! 😉

  12. There you go 🙂 Not very private at all, but not a lot of content either. I’ve long retired from online journalling/blogging/whatever it’s called these days.

    Ta.

  13. Hi auntielucia,

    Need you to clarify a mist after ready all the comments. It looks like from areya that it is illegal to have melamine present in food product. So, I do not understand why the FDA which is also referenced by AVA is saying thing like if an adult or baby do not consume how many mg of melamine everyday over a lifetime, then you do not run the risk of……….

    If it is really illegal, the issuance of such public statement is like condoning or endorsing on such irresponsible acts by manufacturers. I was previously advised by friends not to fully accept those FDA statements as FDA has factored in economy impact when releasing those public statements. However, I have ignored those advises in the past years as I always respect FDA as an authority in food consumption and treat whatever statements they released as bible. Now, I have to re-ponder if melamine is truly at the first place should not be present in any food products.

    Your thoughts, please.

  14. 1. Kisha: melamine reaction. Not sure what u mean by “people’s reaction”? Judging fm media reports online n MSM, everyone is hopping mad. However, since I don’t drink milk or eat milk-based or laced stuff, I’m not frightfully worried or mad.

    2. Sean: I guess we have to believe someone, ie AVA/FDA etc otherwise we won’t be able to eat anything, use anything. We live in an age when most of us depend on a whole supply chain for foodstuffs over whom none of us have control, direct or indirect. As for melamine, I’m coming round to believe that like arsenic etc, it is probably in a lot of foodstuffs NATURALLY. The trouble begins a) when we combine foods that when added together have a toxic effect on an individual and b) when unscrupulous merchants add on a lot more to what’s naturally present to enhance taste, protein whatever.
    For a longer expose on my general philosophy of today’s food panic and paranoia, do read my post:
    https://singaporegirl.wordpress.com/2008/09/29/how-do-we-poison-ourselves/

  15. There’s been definitely quite a bit of hysteria that has developed around the melamine scandal. But I think regulatory authorities around the world, including Singapore’s AVA should share part of the blame for the mess. It’s a bit like the financial meltdown occuring now. Sure…blame Wall Street’s greed, but the mess was compounded by p[oor regulatory oversight. The melamine problem was not a new development, having been implicated in last year’s pet food recall. What has AVA done since last year….??

  16. Hi Mole: hope u r not a “mole”. Thanks for the visit. And for agreeing that there’s been too much hysteria abt the melamine scandal. As my latest post (Oct 11) shows, melamine cld have also entered the food chain quite innocently (tho not in the case of the China milk of cos).

    I’ve deleted yr “promo” abt yr site in yr comment. There’s a proper place fr yr website in the comment form, pse use it.

    Yr site’s rather interesting, altho it’s been going for only a few days. Hate yr black background tho…

  17. Pingback: What makes a post pull in visitors? « FOOD fuels me to talk…

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