News 187 views last update:6 Aug 2012

Melamine misery extends into seafood

Some scientists and consumer advocates are raising concerns that fish from China might also be contaminated with melamine.

China is the world's largest producer of farm-raised seafood, exporting billions of dollars worth of shrimp, catfish, tilapia, salmon and other fish.

The US imported about $2 billion worth of seafood products from China in 2007, almost double the volume of four years earlier, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

But industry experts and businesspeople in China say melamine has been routinely added into fish and animal feed to artificially boost protein readings.

And new research suggests that, unlike in cows and pigs, the edible flesh in fish that have been fed melamine contains residue of the nitrogen-rich substance.

Some American fish importers are voluntarily testing for melamine, but the FDA, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of imported fish, currently doesn't require seafood products to be screened for melamine. Yet research from its own scientists has raised a warning flag.

High levels found
Laboratory studies in the U.S. of melamine-fed catfish, trout, tilapia and salmon by the FDA's Animal Drugs Research Center found that fish tissues had melamine concentrations of up to 200 parts per million.

That's 80 times the maximum "tolerable" amount set by the FDA for safe consumption.

Scientists said testing of melamine in farm-raised fish from China should be made mandatory for precisely that reason: a lack of information about melamine levels in Chinese feed and fish.

Fang Shijun, who has monitored the melamine problem in China for several years, says he believes the adulterated products are now being supplied only by small operators, which abound there.

Like those who added melamine to milk and diluted it with water to increase profits, feed businesses can sell more by substituting melamine for real protein sources, especially with raw material costs having soared in recent years.

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