News last update:6 Aug 2012

Tainted animal feed little threat to humans

Despite the massive recall of melamine-tainted pet food consumers do have little to fear from the news that hogs and chickens sold to the public also ate the tainted feed, health experts say.

Because melamine itself carries a very low toxicity to humans, the dose consumers may have received in pork or chicken is very low compared to that eaten by pets in their food, and because cats and dogs also differ greatly physiologically from humans.

Government officials say they have so far turned up no sign of melamine-linked sickness in either humans or in the chickens and hogs fed the contaminated pet food.

There are many reasons mitigating consumers' risk, experts say.

Melamine's low toxicity
"As recently as 2000, experts almost took melamine off the list of products to be tested in foods, because its toxicity is so low. In fact, one standard measure of a compound's ability to cause harm found that people would have to ingest three times their body weight of melamine to run any serious health risk.

Lower dosages
Dogs and cats are primarily eating just one product, so they were eating melamine at high concentrations every day. It is also suspected that Chinese workers who added the melamine to wheat gluten and rice proteins may have added much more to some lots than to others, which results in some spots where there was a lot of it, and that got passed on to certain pets.

Humans, on the other hand, didn't eat the pet food directly. Instead, it was fed to hogs or chickens who naturally excrete much of the melamine away.

In fact, very little of the compound could be expected to settle in the animals' muscle tissue. And unlike pets eating a single food, consumers are not exclusively eating chicken or pork.

Different physiologies
There are lots of differences between species on how they respond to chemicals. Cats can develop kidney failure from chewing on Easter lilies, and dogs can die after eating grapes - neither of which harm humans.

Cats, especially, have very acidic urine, and it could be that melamine and its metabolite, cyanuric acid (also detected in the recalled pet food), might form crystals in the kidneys of cats. So, the acidity of their urine may help in the formation of these damaging crystals.

The bottom line: The current melamine scare offers little or no threat to the health of the typical US consumer, experts said.

The health of their pets is not so certain, however. It's still not even clear how many cats and dogs died from eating the tainted products.


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