Saturday, November 1, 2008

Spliced feed for The Science Network

Spliced feed for The Science Network

Melamine Open Secret [Sciencebase Science Blog]

Posted: 01 Nov 2008 04:03 AM CDT

melamine-eggsIn September, news emerged from China that thousands of babies had taken ill having drunk formula milk to which the organic compound melamine had been added. The melamine was being added by unscrupulous operatives somewhere in the milk supply chain, to artificially boost the nitrogen content of the product, and so spoof higher protein levels than are actually present.

Subsequently, lists of contaminated products appeared in the media and on the web and as the melamine scandal widened, the Chinese government issued an apology and promised to crack down on the problem.

However, with news this week that batches of eggs imported into Hong Kong from China have tested positive for melamine, which is suspected of causing kidney problems, it now appears that the compound is being added routinely to animal feed in China. According to the BBC, this news has been released into the Chinese state media by a government realising it has far less control over food standards that it ought to have.

The melamine scandal is not new. It is essentially an open secret in China that the compound is added to all kinds of foods, particularly animal feed and pet food to artificially inflate the protein readings at the so-called quality control stage. Melamine was at the heart of the petfood scandal in 2007, but that was simply the first time that the West learned of the problem. It seems obvious that melamine could have been in the food chain much longer than that.

But, whether the open secret of melamine in the food supply is actually as serious a problem as the media would have us believe is down to toxic dose. AP quotes Peter Dingle, a toxicologist from Murdoch University, Perth, Australia, who says that aside from the tainted baby formula that killed at least four Chinese infants and left 54,000 children hospitalized in September, it is unlikely humans will get sick from melamine. The amount of the chemical in a few servings of bacon, for instance, would simply be too low, he said. But he is not recommending that the practice continue unchecked. China should have cracked down sooner on feed companies he and others have said.

However, if the melamine open secret is as big as it appears from the outside, it is unlikely to be stopped any time soon, particularly because of the heirarchical government system in China. “It could take five or even 10 years” before some companies stop adding the chemical to food products, Jason Yan of the US Grains Council is quoted by AP.

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Melamine Open Secret

Cars of the future [Earth & Sky Podcast]

Posted: 31 Oct 2008 04:10 AM CDT

Urban planner Mitchell Joachim was challenged to design a car that’s more environmentally friendly. He responded by helping to literally reinvent the wheel.

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Halloween Skeletons and Reactive Chemistry [Sciencebase Science Blog]

Posted: 31 Oct 2008 04:00 AM CDT

A jack-o'-lanternIn the latest scary issue of the chemistry news webzine, Reactive Reports: Dating skeletons, sticky feet for Gecko Guy, volcanic chemistry from the depths of Hades, and chasing mad cows.

CSI: Waco - A statistical method that processes spectroscopic measurements very quickly could allow crime scene investigators to determine time of death of skeletal remains more accurately and quicker than before, according to researchers at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

Stuck On You - Scientists have long been interested in the ability of gecko lizards to scurry up walls and cling to ceilings by their toes. Now, researchers have found a way to mimic those hairy gecko feet using polymers or carbon nanotubes.

Tubular Reactions - Using surface-modified carbon nanotubes to activate an important industrial chemical, butane, without the need for an expensive metal catalyst—Dang Sheng Su and his team present a process that offers a cheaper alternative to the current industrial process for butane activation.

Chasing Down Mad Cows - Researchers in Europe have tracked down the molecular anchor that hooks errant and infectious prions leading to mad cow disease, scrapie in sheep, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

Halloween Skeletons and Reactive Chemistry

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