The chemical melamine has been found in an increasing number of products imported to the United States from China, including milk products, baby formula, and pet foods. Melamine, primarily used in the production of certain plastics, glues, and flame retardants, has been found to cause kidney problems, eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, and reproductive damage, and is carcinogenic with prolonged exposure.
A recent report suggests that melamine may have been used to “bulk up” certain farmed fish foods, increasing the likelihood that the toxins will be passed on to human consumers. Unlike cattle or pigs, who metabolize the chemical after eating it, melamine residues are found in the flesh of fish who have consumed it, and thus may pass the toxicity on to humans.
Chinese fish exports include certain frozen shrimp, tilapia, catfish, salmon, and other seafood products. While the FDA has not yet made an official statement regarding the potential for contamination, consumers are cautioned to take care when purchasing frozen fish of unknown or Chinese origin. While many fish importers willingly test for melamine in their products, this testing is not yet required by the FDA.
Photograph of Chinese fish farm from the Los Angeles Times.