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Melamine

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Topics covered:

  1. Issues related to health.

Melamine

 

What to study?

For prelims and mains: melamine- contamination and its effects, can such bans be imposed?

 

Context: The government has extended the ban on import of milk and its products, including chocolates, from China till laboratories at ports for testing presence of toxic chemical melamine are upgraded.

 

Background:

Food regulator FSSAI had recommended extending the ban until all labs at ports are modernised to test the chemical. The ban was first imposed in September 2008 and extended subsequently from time to time.

 

Key facts:

  1. India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of milk. It produces around 150 million tonne milk annually. 
  2. Uttar Pradeshis the leading state in milk production followed by Rajasthan and Gujarat. 
  3. Although India does not import milk, milk products from China, it has imposed the ban as a preventive measure. 

 

What is melamine?

Melamine is an organic base chemical most commonly found in the form of white crystals rich in nitrogen.

 

What is melamine generally used for?

Melamine is widely used in plastics, adhesives, countertops, dishware, whiteboards.

 

Why is  melamine added into milk and powdered infant formula?

In China, where adulteration has occurred, water has been added to raw milk to increase its volume. As a result of this dilution the milk has a lower protein concentration. Companies using the milk for further production (e.g. of powdered infant formula) normally check the protein level through a test measuring nitrogen content. The addition of melamine increases the nitrogen content of the milk and therefore its apparent protein content

Addition of melamine into food is not approved by the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius (food standard commission), or by any national authorities. 

 

Has melamine been found in other food products?

In 2007, melamine was found in wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate exported from China and used in the manufacture of pet food in the United States. This caused the death of a large number of dogs and cats due to kidney failure. 

melamine contamination has also been found in a number of different brands of powdered infant formula, in one brand of a frozen yogurt dessert and in one brand of canned coffee drink. All these products were most probably manufactured using ingredients made from melamine-contaminated milk.

 

What are the health effects of melamine consumptions in humans?

While there are no direct human studies on the effect of melamine data from animal studies can be used to predict adverse health effects. Melamine alone causes bladder stones in animal tests. When combined with cyanuric acid, which may also be present in melamine powder, melamine can form crystals that can give rise to kidney stones.

Melamine has also been shown to have carcinogenic effects in animals in certain circumstances, but there is insufficient evidence to make a judgment on carcinogenic risk in humans.