China: 1500 dogs dead after eating melamine-tainted food

8:41AM Tuesday Oct 21, 2008
Gillian Wong


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BEIJING - Some 1500 Chinese dogs have died after eating melamine-tainted animal feed, the latest contamination involving the chemical in a scandal that has sickened tens of thousands of babies and raised questions about the prevalence of the toxin in the country's food chain.

The raccoon dogs - a breed native to east Asia that is raised for its fur - were fed a product that contained melamine and developed kidney stones, Zhang Wenkui, a veterinary professor at Shenyang Agriculture University, said Monday. All of the dogs died on farms in just one village.

"First, we found melamine in the dogs' feed, and second, I found that 25 per cent of the stones in the dogs' kidneys were made up of melamine," said Zhang, who determined that the animals died of kidney failure after performing a necropsy - an animal autopsy - on about a dozen dogs.

The animals take their name from their fur, which resembles that of raccoons, and is used to make clothing, especially coats.

Zhang declined to say when the deaths occurred but a report in the Southern Metropolis Daily said they had been over the past two months.

The newspaper also blamed the deaths of several hundred dogs on melamine, but it was not immediately clear how the chemical entered the feed.

In the ongoing tainted milk scandal, which has been linked to the deaths of four babies, melamine was said to be added to watered-down milk to artificially boost nitrogen levels, making products seem higher in protein when tested. Some 54,000 children were also sickened.

The animal deaths were also a reminder of last year's uproar over a Chinese-made pet food ingredient containing melamine that was linked to the deaths of dozens of dogs and cats in the United States.

At the time, China's product safety authorities revoked the business licenses of questionable firms, announced tougher guidelines and increased inspections. But countless small and illegally operated manufacturers found throughout the country make monitoring hard. It also makes it difficult to define the supply chain and trace the origin of components, chemicals and food additives.

"It's still happening because it's enormously profitable. It's much cheaper to put melamine in as a nitrogen source than to put a real source in," said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University who wrote a book about the tainted pet food scandal.

"You're going to have this kind of thing until you have a food safety system that's adequate to oversee what's going on or provide enough of a deterrent that people doing this think there's too much of a chance they're going to get caught," she said.

Raccoon dogs are not the only animals in China that have fallen victim to melamine-tainted products - a lion cub and two baby orangutans developed kidney stones last month at a zoo near Shanghai.

Hospital officials said the three baby animals had been nursed for more than a year with milk powder made by Sanlu Group Co, which is at the centre of the tainted milk crisis.

Melamine has been found in a wide range of Chinese-made dairy products and foods with milk ingredients over the past few months. The government is still trying to win back consumer confidence after those tainted products turned up on store shelves around the world.

When ingested by humans, the industrial chemical - used in plastics and fertilisers - can cause kidney stones as the body tries to eliminate it and, in extreme cases, can lead to kidney failure. Infants are particularly susceptible.

Zhang said the company that produces the animal feed is in talks with breeders in Xishan, the village in Liaoning province where the dogs died, about providing compensation and has pressured them not to talk to the media.

Zhang did not give the company's name but the newspaper report said the feed was produced by Harbin Hualong Feed Co. The company refused to comment yesterday, saying officials were unavailable because they were in a meeting.

An official surnamed Liu at the Liaoning provincial animal feed and medicine inspection centre said the facility tested one sample of animal feed from Xishan and found that it contained about 500 parts per million of melamine.

China's Health Ministry recently capped the amount of melamine permissible in milk, milk powder and food products that contain more than 15 per cent dairy to 2.5 parts per million.

Liu said that the centre was assisting the Ministry of Agriculture in a nationwide inspection of animal feed for similar contamination but would not give any other details.

The ministry did not respond to a list of faxed questions. Telephone calls to the agricultural department of the Ciyutuo county government, which oversees Xishan, rang unanswered.

China's products have been under intense scrutiny after high levels of industrial toxins were found last year in exports ranging from toothpaste to toys.

The milk scandal has resulted in recalls and the blocking of Chinese imports in numerous countries.

Australia said yesterday that it had ordered a recall of a milk drink and cake brand after tests showed they were contaminated with melamine.

- AP



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