Committing adulteration

The Register has a piece on the “melamine in whey protein” story that’s been disturbing me. Obviously, it’s nowhere near as disturbing to me as it has been to the thousands of Chinese babies become seriously ill with kidney damage and even died, as a result of imbibing the product when it found its way into milk.

One thing about this incident that inspires true shock and awe is the evil chemical genius that it shows. Imagine that you are a milk producer whose yields are a bit disappointing. Even, if you were completely unscrupulous, you might think that watering down the milk was as far as you could go.

Not so, a company called Xuzhou Anying can provide a sciencey-sounding “protein” powder. Well, a powder that tests as if it was made of protein, when you do an assay on it. It turns out to be melamine. How on earth did anyone come to think “Mwa ha ha, I can pass of melamine as protein”

In the first quarter of last year, the Chinese company, Xuzhou Anying, was advertising dust of melamine as something it called “ESB protein powder” on the global market trading website, Alibaba. “The latest product, ESB protein powder, which is researched and developed by Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., Ltd… Contains protein 160 – 300 percent, which solves the problem for shortage of protein resource,” it boasted. (from the Register)

So this magical protein powder claimed to contain more than 100% protein. Shouldn’t that have set off just a few alarm bells in the minds of prospective buyers.

“Dust of melamine” How tasty does that sound? I mean, if it’s good enough to make kitchen worktops, melamine must be great as a food item.

Awkwardly worded and a bit fishy, it nevertheless apparently hooked North American pet food makers and animal feed distributors ….

(killing off lots of pets in the USA)

…China makes a lot of melamine and the country also manufactures and exports tens of billions of dollars worth of powders and concentrates for use in processed food. Readers can see where this is going. Completely stamping out criminal rings making and diverting melamine for use in processed food is going to be a long process, if it can be done at all.

I start thinking of all the ways that “protein” powders get into the food chain. There’s a big enough market for cheap whey protein, for a start. Plus, protein powders are added to most manufactured foods.

It doesn’t inspire much confidence to consider that an assay for the nitrogen content of a product is enough to render it acceptable, especially when the readings are so far off the scale as to be incredible.

I googled “ESB protein powder” “about 2,430 for ESB protein powder.” The first page of Google results gives no apparent indication that this is a completely blag product.

(The accompanying Google ads list several online supplement sellers, who might probably feel that they definitely haven’t had their money’s worth for their ad dollars, given that that guilt by association isn’t normally seen as an advertising plus. But then, there’s nothing in the hits to suggest that ESB protein powder isn’t a miracle new bio-engineered protein.)

I follow the top listed Googled hit.
Here on the page, in a list of other doubtless meticulously-safe protein powder products, I see:

4. ESB protein powder
The latest product ESB Protein Powder which is researched and developed by Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., Ltd. contains
Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co.,Ltd. [China \ Jiangsu\Xuzhou]

I am tempted to order some for a sick laugh. I follow the link. It only says “Enquire now” though but it does provide some information on this nutritionally astonishing powder:

The latest product ESB Protein Powder which is researched and developed by Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., Ltd. contains protein 160%-300%, which solves the problem for shortage of protein resource. Reasonably making use of NPN and reducing the production cost of feed factor, ESB Protein Powder is a good additive to supplement the shortage of protein resources in animal feed applications.
After eating this, protein powder will be transformed into mycoprotein in the alimentary canal under the action of digestive enzyme; it will be normally digested, absorbed and used by the livestock and poultry. It is safe nonpoisonous, without bad reaction

I feel momentarily smug as a vegetarian. At least I won’t be eating animals fed on tasty melamine. Wait a minute. Mycoprotein? Doesn’t that mean “protein derived from fungus”? Is melamine now being classed as a mushroom? Doesn’t Quorn claim to be derived from mycoprotein? Feel notably less smug. I hope they don’t outsource the Quorn ingredients.

There are 42 protein powders listed on these pages, almost all from Chinese companies. The site is directed specifically at the wholesale market and at resellers.

“Hi! Start here to find Protein Powder manufacturers,exporters,suppliers,distributors and wholesalers related to Protein Powder. from china and around the world “

Here’s another reseller’s blurb from exilion.

… Reasonably making use of NPN and reducing the production cost of feed factor, ESB Protein Powder is a good additive to supplement protein resources in animal feed applications. After eating this, phalli protein will be transformed inside the alimentary canal and upon effect from digestion enzyme; it will be normally digested, absorbed and used by the livestock and poultry. It is safe nonpoisonous, without bad reaction. Use Methods. For poultry feed: adding 2% is capable of increasing protein by 3.2%-4%. 2. For cattle/sheep/pig/fish/shrimp feed: adding 3% is capable of increasing protein by 4.8%-

I give up on working out what phalli protein means (isn’t that the plural form of phallus?) I see that sheep, pigs, fish and chickens are all likely to get fed this crap.

Every link to ESB powder relates to a product from a single Chinese factory. This is slightly reassuring. At least this particular scam seems to have some limts. But the massive plethora of resellers doesn’t exactly allay suspicion. And these are just the resellers who are citing the original source. I would imagine there must be many more who have rebranded the product or would be quite willing to do so.

Now, just in case one gets the idea this is bagging on China too much, consider it takes two parties to make this crime work. The people who make and sell the melamine. And the western firms in the food industry working the territory for the best possible deals, in the process giving up tight supervision and quality control of their suppliers. (from the Register)

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