Chickens feed at a poultry wholesale market in Chengdu, Sichuan Province in 2006. China"s state media announced that the compound melamine is often used in animal feed. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)
The Chinese newspaper Nanfang Daily reported yesterday that melamine, the organic compound responsible for thousands of illnesses among infants who drank tainted milk, is often used in animal feed to give the appearance of being more nutritious.
An Associated Press report that the disclosure appears to be "tacit admission by the government that contamination is widespread" in China"s food supply since other state media picked up the story.
Nanfang Daily, and its sister paper Nanfang (Southern) Weekend, are both based out of South China"s Guangdong Province and are known for their investigative reporting that are at times critical of the government.
According to the Chinese paper, melamine scrap is repackaged into "protein powder" which is sold to feed suppliers. This week four brands of eggs were found to have had melamine contamination, likely through the feed given to hens. So far, no illnesses have been linked to melamine-tainted eggs.
The newspaper also found that chemical plants had previously paid companies to treat and dispose of leftover melamine. Five years ago, the companies started selling it to manufacturers who repackaged the melamine into "protein powder." The feed was first used for fish, then later for poultry and livestock.
"The effect far more exceeds the milk powder scandal," the newspaper said.
The Associated Press has quoted Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University, who said it was unlikely humans would get sick from eating meat from animals raised on melamine-tainted feed, because the amount of chemical contained in a few servings of meat would not be harmful.