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Melamine Toxicity Testing - Practical or Political, Its Here to Stay

Aug 17, 2007
Melamine (1,3,5-triazine-2,4,6-triamine) is a very useful organic trimer of cyanide, with the formula C3H6N6. It is used in the resins of many glues, plastics, as a plastic pigment and in some inks. It is relatively non-toxic (with a similar lethal dose as table salt), and was for a time considered as a nitrogen supplement for livestock. Waste melamine is still given to livestock in some areas, a practice which sparked a media frenzy in the United States over melamine contamination of human food supplies and animal fodder. As a result, interest in melamine testing procedures and equipment has skyrocketed in recent months.

Melamine is a very widely used ingredient in common household plastics. It is frequently used in materials and synthetic fibers, clothing, plastic food containers, and as a major constituent of a yellow dye that is found in many plastics and inks. Melamine dinnerware and bowls are all quite common, as its use in food surfaces like plastic wrapping and counter-top surfaces. Chemically, the compound is over 60% nitrogen by weight. The effect this has is significant, as it makes the melamine plastics almost impossible to burn.

As the plastic chars, it releases gaseous nitrogen, which most fires are nowhere near hot enough to burn. This makes melamine based plastics suitable when fire-retardant properties are required. Melamine is often given to livestock to increase the amount of protein they appear to be carrying in some tests. In mid 2007, it was revealed that the human population had consumed contaminated pork and chicken products, and that animals used in pet food imported to the US from a Chinese firm had been fed on melamine by-products.

The FDA has never judged melamine contamination to be particularly dangerous, as the substance is very non-toxic. Nevertheless, there are testing and quality control requirements placed on all foods in the United States, and as melamine is considered a toxin, these apply to melamine contamination too. There has been some speculation that the 2007 scare was a largely political affair, and that the threat of melamine contamination has been immensely over stated.

Despite the FDA's stance on melamine toxicity, all gluten products from China (the vector by which affected animals became contaminated) were temporarily halted when the scare first broke out. Additionally, the Administration has warned manufacturers, farmers and growers that the onus is on them to sell safe produce, not on the FDA to compulsorily conduct melamine testing itself. Importers, manufacturers, and agricultural sector businesses are likely to attract increased scrutiny from the FDA, which raises the importance of melamine testing equipment and services to many service providers.

According to industry insiders, it is likely that ongoing FDA melamine testing will show that contamination is more widespread than was previously known, and about as harmless as previously thought. No human has become ill as a result of the 2007 melamine contamination. Acute melamine poisoning can result in kidney and reproductive failure.

Melamine testing is conducted using rudimentary chromatographic techniques, including analysis via Gas Chromatography, or High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). Importers of pet feed, rice gluten, or meat from China would be particularly well advised to engage the services of a professional food and drug testing laboratory who can perform both qualitative and quantitative analysis to determine whether something is contaminated, and to what degree.

A urine test is a common diagnostic technique, which is suitable for assessing livestock and pets. Any animal displaying visible symptoms of kidney failure or distress should be given attention by a veterinary professional at the earliest opportunity.

Interest in melamine testing has skyrocketed with the recent scares in the United States after pork and chicken were given contaminated feed imported from China, which was in turn consumed by pets and humans. The levels of melamine and the waste chemicals it is often associated with were so extreme that some estimates put the number of domestic family pet deaths over 1000, with many more casualties. With unprecedented scrutiny on this toxin in food sources, producers would be well-advised to contract the services of a drug testing laboratory or veterinary hospital if operators have any doubts at all.
About the Author
Interest in melamine testing has skyrocketed. With unprecedented scrutiny on the various industries which use melamine, protect your company and your consumers by contracting the services of a testing laboratory such as Midwest Laboratories. http://store.midwestlabs.com
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