My solution to all scary agricultural news is to buy local and to buy organic. I understand that this is classicist, but my guilt is outweighed by my belief that it offers me a modicum of safety from things, like, the melamine scare.
As usual, I found myself on one hand an advocate for policy change (I signed the MomsRising petitions, wrote the aforementioned blog, and righteously upped my strident dedication to Family Farmed), and on the other hand I just assumed that I was safe. I had thrown out my melamine plates, forced my child to accept honey sticks and raisins instead of milk candies, and, well, I eat local and organic.
Then I read the NY Times editorial by James E McWilliams who warns us that even if we eat local, organic, and grass-fed we are still at risk (though, he does point out, we are at less risk).
Why are we at risk? Because China isn’t the only one tossing melamine all over the place. Fertilizer companies commonly add melamine to their products and the government doesn’t regulate how much. The melamine accumulates as salt crystals in the ground and can be absorbed into food. Melamine can also end up in our chicken, beef, and pork that we consume. The article suggests that melamine-tainted animal feed is more common than we would like to believe and harder to track. Indeed, the US has known about melamine-tainted meat that it has chosen not to recall.
The FDA has set legal limits for melamine in food at 2.5 parts per million. This is considered a relatively conservative standard for adults weighing at least 132 pounds. Yet, as the article points out, what about children?
McWilliams writes: “First, while adults eat about one-fortieth of their weight every day, toddlers consume closer to one-tenth. Although scientists haven’t measured the differential impact of melamine on infants versus adults, it’s likely that this intensified ratio would at least double (if not quadruple) the impact of legal levels of melamine on toddlers.
This doubled exposure might not land a child in the hospital, but it could certainly contribute to the long-term kidney and liver problems that we know are caused by chronic exposure to melamine.”
Melamine is considered relatively safe for adults in low doses, however it can combine with cyanuric acid to cause BIG problems. The irony is that cyanuric acid can end up in food as a response to melamine in animal feed, and thus the two can easily occur together. This can even happen with organic meats which could have received tainted feed (most wheat gluten comes from China and it is all poorly regulated), grass-fed meats (grass is often the victim of fertilizers which aren’t well evaluated for safety), and I suppose even organic produce might end up with some remnant melamine crystals.
This news doesn’t mean I will give up eating local and organic—reduced risk is still reduced risk. It does mean, however, that I will stop assuming NOT ME when I hear about food scares from now on. Hopefully, this will force me to be a better advocated for things like testing on fertilizer and reduced imports from China. If nothing else, I will at least plant a bigger garden next year.