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Best explanation I have seen so far as to why the use of Melamine has all of a sudden become a killer. The article is from South Africa,

Pet food additive a threat to humans

By David Spett

Melamine, the chemical blamed for killing at least 25 dogs in South Africa, may have been used in pet food for years, according to a professor emeritus at the University of Pretoria.

Worse, human food may also be contaminated by the potentially toxic chemical.

Fred Reyers, a veterinary pathologist now in private practice, made the remarks after reports released on Monday indicated that Chinese food producers regularly add melamine to animal feed and have done so for years.

'It seems like a hell of a deal'
The chemical, which is 60 percent nitrogen and has no nutritional value, is an inexpensive additive produced from boiled coal that allows food-makers to charge more for their product by falsely claiming it has more protein.

When testing for the nutrient, manufacturers calculate the amount of nitrogen.

"It seems like a hell of a deal: producers are getting rich without putting much protein in there," Reyers said.

Melamine alone is not believed to be toxic. But a study by Brent Hoff, of the University of Guelph in Canada, has shown that the chemical was being mixed with cyanuric acid, another nitrogen-rich compound that spikes protein content, with deadly results.

"They are both essentially non-toxic, but they combine in the kidneys, where they form a compound called melamine cyanurate.

"And melamine cyanurate is bad news because it forms big crystals, it destroys the kidneys and kills the animals," Reyers said. "It took us a long time to catch on because they are two relatively innocuous compounds. The only reason we've had a major outbreak now is that they happened to get the wrong combination."

Humans could be in danger too, he added: "There's no reason to believe the protein- spiking additives are limited to pet food, but the government is ignoring this dangerous possibility.

"I worry that in the US and Australia, the government agencies are up in arms. In South Africa, I have seen no evidence of any government agencies getting excited," said Reyers.

While melamine is considered non-toxic to humans, it has been shown to cause cancer in lab rats when given in high concentrations. It may be carcinogenic in other pets and humans, he added.

The SA Veterinary Association is polling vets to determine the magnitude of pet illnesses and deaths. About one-fifth of vets have responded to the poll and they reported 25 deaths; 70 ill pets treated and discharged; 64 still on treatment; and 179 ill but unable to receive treatment.

Royal Canin, maker of Vets Choice Premium Dog Food, recalled its products on April 12, blaming melamine additives for pet deaths and illnesses. For unknown reasons, most of the affected dogs were in Gauteng. Cats do not appear to have fallen ill in South Africa.

On Thursday, China banned melamine as a food additive. The country faced strong pressure from the US, where up to 3 000 pets may have died from contaminated pet food.

On Sunday, the state of California announced that at least 45 people have eaten pork from pigs that were fed melamine-contaminated food. The chemical is banned in the US.

This article was originally published on page 2 of The Star on May 01, 2007
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