I've been too busy trying to keep Wikipedia up-to-date to put a proper blog together on this, so for now I'll post a brief email I sent to Ben over at Itchmo and Daily Kos's own Susan Hu. If you've been following the news regarding the 2007 pet food crisis and the use of melamine to inflate the protein measurements, you can probably follow it right off. If not, go read my last blog post (A Perfect Storm or the China Syndrome: Food Fraud) or check out the info at the wikipedia entry above.
An argument for removing the economic incentive to dump industrial waste into our protein products follows after the jump:
Hi Ben and Susan,
Thank you both for all the good work you are doing.
Second, just wanted to make it clear that that first tidbit about the transcript of China's april 26 press conference is not related to my second item. It is just typical and troubling that while it was widely reported that China had banned melamine use and admitted that melamine-tainted products had been exported, no mention of it is made in their transcript.
Third, I'm looking some more into the detection issues and will try to get back to you with more. In brief, urea-formaldehyde resin is another nitrogen containing compound that would inflate the crude protein measurement tests and it is apparently readily and inexpensively available in China where such resin products are ground up into powder. It has no relation to melamine, so there is no reason to believe that any melamine specific QC test would detect it. And while it is made from urea and formaldehyde heated in the presence of a mild base such as ammonia or pyridine, once it is processed into a resin, I do not believe that it would be detected by the QC tests designed to detect urea, itself.
It's that last part that I do not have definitive proof for, but it seems to be the basis for its use in China. If you know anyone who can read the chinese sites I sent (in the wiki enry), they may be able to learn more.
As a general matter, it is another argument that, rather than trying to develop QC tests for each possible nitrogen compound that could inflate crude protein measurement, we need to move to true protein testing to remove the economic incentive to adulterate proteins with any non-protein nitrogen. First it was urea, now it's melamine, maybe urea-formaldehyde, tomorrow someone will come up with another cheap nitrogen compound.
In at least one other segment of the food industry, the dairy industry, some countries (at least the U.S., Australia, France and Hungary), have adopted "true protein" measurement, as opposed to crude protein measurement, as the standard for payment and testing: "True protein is a measure of only the proteins in milk, whereas crude protein is a measure of all sources of nitrogen and includes nonprotein nitrogen, such as urea, which has no food value to humans. ... Current milk-testing equipment measures peptide bonds, a direct measure of true protein." P.M. VanRaden and R.L. Powell. Genetic evaluations for true protein. United States Department of Agriculture.
So, at least in the dairy industry, we've demonstrated that this change is economically feasible.
Best to you both.
While my educational background is in physics and biophysics and I've worked in protein structure determination and prediction in the biotech portion of the pharmaceutical industry (in Seattle, btw, Susan), I am not a biochemist or a specialist in industrial quality control testing.
For more on this check out the NPN as additive and protein testing in wiki.
That's it. If purchasers are paying only for the protein, there won't be any more incentive to add non-protein nitrogen industrial waste. This has been an episode of simple answers to complex problems.
And more on that nitrogen-rich industrial waste. According to our new info over at wikipedia, melamine and cyanuric acid, in combination as crystals formed from melamine/urea production waste product is a known combination.