(NaturalNews) The state-run Chinese news media have admitted that the practice of lacing animal feed with the toxic chemical melamine is probably widespread nationwide. The Nanfang Daily referred to the practice as an "open secret" in the industry.
The chemical's presence in China first emerged in September, when more than 56,000 infants became ill and at least four died after consuming melamine-tainted milk. The case led a number of Asian countries and companies to order tests or restrictions on Chinese food products, and to a European Union ban on any Chinese baby food products containing milk. The head of China's food quality watchdog agency resigned over the scandal.
In early November, Hong Kong officials announced that eggs from China were also contaminated, and at least four brands have tested positive for melamine so far. This came only days after 1,500 wild Chinese canines known as "raccoon dogs" died of kidney failure at a fur farm after eating melamine-contaminated feed.
According to Chinese media reports, melamine is routinely added to animal feed because it mimics protein in quality tests. "The feed industry seems to have acquiesced to agree on using the chemical to reduce production costs while maintaining the protein count for quality inspections," the China Daily said in an editorial. "We cannot say for sure if the same chemical has made its way into other types of food." Because the news media in China are state controlled, analysts interpreted the recent reports as a tacit government admission that melamine has widely contaminated animal food products across the country.
China has been criticized for attempts to cover up the scale and severity of the melamine contamination scandal. The government still officially denies that the contamination is systemic, and claims that the tainted eggs are a special case. In one of the biggest food safety operations in years, 369,000 government agents inspected animal feed operations across the country at the beginning of November, destroying 3,600 tons of feed and shutting down 238 producers.
Nearly two weeks later, the U.S. government issued an "import alert" for food products from China.