Have You Had Your Melamine Today?

I took a walk through my grocery store today, looking closely at product labels. I always find that a harrowing experience but today more so than usual. I looked at a loaf of bread: wheat gluten. A can of soup: wheat gluten. A can of Beefaronis: wheat gluten, wheat protein, soy protein. Stouffers Meat Loaf: wheat protein, soy protein. Lean Cuisine Spaghetti Dinner: wheat protein, soy protein. It was truly amazing how many different products had wheat gluten, rice gluten, corn gluten, wheat protein, rice protein, or soy protein in them.

I never thought that I’d see the day when, potentially, the hot dogs were the healthiest thing on their shelf.

A few days ago the FDA announced an import alert on a broad range of vegetable protein source products from China because they contained melamine. No one really knows what the longterm health consequences of human consumption of melamine are. It’s not thought to be particularly toxic but the honest truth is that no one knows because no one expected that people would consume melamine in their food.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure I want to mention that I don’t buy any of the products I listed above. Practically everything I buy is something to make something to eat: a raw fruit or vegetable, meat, fish, grain, etc. I rarely buy something that’s ready-to-eat at the grocery store and the more convenient a food is by and large the more processed it is and, indeed, the more likely it is to contain the various vegetable proteins that have been put on alert.

Now, the $64,000 question: do you know where the wheat gluten, rice gluten, etc. in the foods you eat (or that’s in the feed of the livestock whose flesh is neatly packaged in your grocery case) is from?

Have you had your melamine today?

Footnote

I called Kellogg’s customer service department today to ask about a few of their products. They are painfully aware of what’s going on, they rushed to assure me that none of their products used Chinese-sourced vegetable proteins, and, as soon as the original recall of pet foods took place a month ago they conducted an audit of their suppliers to ensure that none of them were using Chinese-sourced vegetable proteins, either. Now as long as everybody is telling the truth…

As I’ve said a number of times, a modern economy is based on trust.

FILED UNDER: General,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

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  2. Michael says:

    When my son was younger, we had to put him on a gluten-free diet for some time. It’s virtually impossible to find gluten-free products in your average grocery store.

    In a family with 2 children and 2 working parents, making all our meals from scratch isn’t an appealing option.

  3. jeff b says:

    Dave, man, you’re giving me nightmares here. I haven’t personally been in a Safeway/Albertsons/Kroger/Wal*Mart type of “food” store in about ten years. Simple rule for shoppers: don’t buy anything that comes in a package. Buy bread that contains wheat rather than wheat gluten. Get your meat freshly butchered. Grind it at home if you like ground meat. Make the bulk of your diet out of rice, potatoes, onions, fennel, spinach, carrots, celery, peppers, olives, nuts, and all that other stuff that they just have laying around in bins at the market.

    It’s an easy way to avoid the horror of whatever the Chinese are putting in our food. It’s also a tremendously inexpensive way to eat.

  4. Steve Verdon says:

    jeff b,

    What about the wheat glutton that might be in that meat you had freshly butchered? What about eating out? The food supply is never going to be 100% safe. That spinach with the e. coli that killed a bunch of people a few months ago? Organic spinach. So even going organic isn’t necessarily going to save.

    This is definitely one area where the government can fill in for market failures. Problem is we are spending lots of money on things like No Child Left Behind, the horrible energy bill, etc.

  5. legion says:

    Trust, schmust. It’s all about the dolla bills, y’all.

    Why did the Chinese plants use melamine? It’s cheaper than actual protein. Why did US companies buy it? Same reason. Will US companies face sanctions for using sketchily-sourced Chinese foodstuffs? Unlikely. Will China face sanctions for burning your “trust”? Equally unlikely. Why? Again, money.

    Seriously, what is this government likely to do to China?

  6. Tlaloc says:

    When my son was younger, we had to put him on a gluten-free diet for some time. It’s virtually impossible to find gluten-free products in your average grocery store.

    Ditto. My son had mild allergies to processed sugars and gluten. Good luck finding something with neither in it. Fortunately he seems to have grown out of it.

  7. jeff b says:

    Why would an animal eat wheat gluten? Cattle prefer grass, and pigs are foragers. Chickens eat weeds, bugs, and worms.

    As for eating out, I try not to think about it 🙂 If you eat out in the same place frequently you concentrate the risk, so I try to dine out at many different places.

  8. Steve Verdon says:

    Jeff,

    Didn’t you read Dave’s post? There was melamine contaminated chicken feed fed to…wait for it…chickens. Chickens that you and I are likely to eat. IIRC same thing with hogs.

  9. Steve Verdon says:

    Sorry Jeff, you need to read Dave’s post at the Glittering Eye to get the story on chicken feed. I thought it was in this post, but it was in reality the one on the pet food recall. My mistake.

    http://theglitteringeye.com/?p=2860

    WASHINGTON — Chicken feed in some farms in Indiana contained byproducts from pet food manufactured with contaminated wheat gluten imported from China, two federal agencies said Monday.

    The Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration said in a joint statement that officials learned of the link between the chicken feed and tainted pet food as part of the investigation into imported rice protein concentrate and wheat gluten that have been found to contain the industrial chemical melamine and related compounds.

    An estimated 30 broiler poultry farms and eight breeder poultry farms in Indiana received contaminated feed in early February and fed it to poultry within days of receiving it, the agencies said. Other farms will probably be identified as having received contaminated feed, they added.

    All the broilers believed to have been fed contaminated products have been processed, while the breeders are under voluntary hold by flock owners, the agencies said.

    The FDA and USDA said the likelihood of human illness from eating chicken fed the contaminated product is very low. With no evidence of harm to humans, no recall of poultry products processed from these animals was being issued, the agencies said.

  10. jeff b says:

    Yes, there’s a lot of commercially-raised chicken that is feed whatever. I guess I was being too sly, but my point was that nearly all commercial meat is raised on feed which is completely counter to the nature of the animal. Cattle are fed corn and lots of other things, pigs are fed garbage, offal, asphalt, etc, and chickens are fed some pretty horrifying stuff.

    My point was that this is not the only way to raise animals, and it’s perfectly possible to buy grass-fed beef, foraging pig, and range-raised chicken. It’s just expensive, by which I mean equal in price to what meat used to cost before it was “democratized”.

  11. Steve Plunk says:

    I may be an ignorant hillbilly but why all the worry? More likely I’ll die in car wreck or get hit while riding my bicycle than this stuff will kill me. And it all started with the death of a few pets? I’ve got bigger things to worry about.

    The world economy relies on trust and the dollar. Mostly the trust comes from knowing you’ll get sued and lose all your dollars if you don’t do things right.

  12. Dave Schuler says:

    And it all started with the death of a few pets?

    Estimates are 2,000-7,000 with tens of thousands more injured and millions of dollars in vet bills. Until the reason behind the deaths is discovered, there’s no reason that it couldn’t be babies next time.

  13. Tano says:

    “This is definitely one area where the government can fill in for market failures. ”

    Sorry, but that agency has been drowned in the bathtub.

  14. legion says:

    Steve P,
    Ummmm, you remember Mad Cow Disease? That killed a bit more than ‘just a few pets’. And IIRC, the leading candidate for the cause of the outbreak waslong-term use of feed made from slaughterhouse leavings & dead/diseased cattle – feeding meat (and frighteningly low-grade meat; stuff nothing but a scavenger would eat!) to herbivores.

  15. Anderson says:

    I may be an ignorant hillbilly but why all the worry? More likely I’ll die in car wreck or get hit while riding my bicycle than this stuff will kill me. And it all started with the death of a few pets? I’ve got bigger things to worry about.

    You don’t have kids, do you?

  16. floyd says:

    Food security has already gone the way of border security, job security, economic security and military security. A nation without wisdom elects a government without wisdom. Unfettered globalization equals the lowest common denominator for working people everywhere.

  17. Steve Plunk says:

    Looks like my point of view is contrary to most.

    Anderson, I do have a son. Legion, there’s a bigger risk being treated by an overworked doctor in the hospital than mad cow disease. Dave, I heard it was a few hundred pets and a lot of cases of hysterical sickness.

    The point is this is minor. Sure it could be worse. We could have a food distribution system like a third world country or perhaps no food at all. It’s a big leap from tainted pet food to not buying any human food that’s in a package.

    It’s not good that peoples pets have died but how many a day die getting run over because they are allowed to roam? How many are euthanized daily because of owners neglect? I’m not discounting the loss but this is not how to make public policy.

    Rational discussion without panic and emotion is how to make policy. I’m afraid this topic is too full of both.

  18. legion says:

    Rational discussion without panic and emotion is how to make policy. I’m afraid this topic is too full of both.

    I lived in Germany during the heart of the mad cow scare in Europe – to this day, I’m not allowed to give blood by the Red Cross just because I lived there; I never went near a farm or a cow. I’m not enough of a biologist to know if the hysteria was proper or not, but considering that the British beef industry basically ceased to exist, with hundreds of thousands of heads of cattle put down and burnt (without armed insurrection by the farmes, I might add), it’s clear that a large number of people do take it very seriously. Just because it didn’t happen in America doesn’t mean it didn’t happen…