Taking a deep breath on melamine

Posted on May 1, 2007

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We’ve been hearing a lot in the news about melamine ever since it was directly implicated in the deaths thousands of pets. The latest news is that melamine has apparently entered the human food supply in the United States. As a result, there have been calls to give the FDA new enforcement powers and even suggestions that this could lead to a trade war with China. While the melamine contamination/adulteration of gluten and vegetable protein from China is a very serious issue, I believe that it’s past time that someone inject some perspective into this debate.

The toxicity of melamine in humans has not been determined. Because of tests on rodents (mostly rats), we know that melamine is toxic and causes kidney cancers at very high doses, but we don’t know what the equivalent doses are for humans. In addition, there is a chance that melamine and it’s metabolic byproducts are absorbed to some extent by the edible tissues of poultry, pigs, and cattle, but again we don’t know how much melamine the edible tissues absorb, so we don’t know how much melamine humans who eat those tissues might be exposed to.

In other words, we don’t know anywhere near enough to justify freaking out over this. That’s not to say we shouldn’t engage in some common-sense sorts of precautions, like eating more real food instead of highly processed foods packed fully of vegetable protein and gluten. But we should all take a deep breath and calm down. After all, melamine is just one more toxin we get exposed to (via inhalation, contact, or ingestion) every day.

Until we have more information, I’d prefer to worry about the known toxins in my environment. Things like benzene, arsenic, lead, mercury, pthalates, polychlorinated biphenyls, herbicides and pesticides, bovine growth hormone, dioxin, radon, antibiotics, formaldehyde, styrene, silicone, asbestos, silica….

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