Even My iPhone May Have Melamine

Thursday, October 2, 2008 1:29
Posted in category Uncategorized

Looking at Wikipedia today, I learned that Melamine is a fire retardant, and it was then that I realized that I may have a Melamine laced iPhone.. or computer… or bedding

All jokes aside, the recent China based food safety issues have grown much wider than the initial story of a single milk company with contaminated product.  It has stretched to more than 20 Chinese milk producers, to Nestle, to Lipton Milk Tea, to candy, to Ritz crackers, and it is still early days as now even food in the Netherlands is being found to have been contaminated….

What is interesting is that this is not just a China problem, it is one that has been found in other regions of the world that consider themselves to be at the “Western Standard”.

You know.. Australia and New Zealand.

Australian dairy farmers would add cheap milk powder to fresh milk when it failed to meet protein and other quality standards.

More interesting than that to me, is that people are now starting to finally ask themselves what is in their food, and should we be worried about more than just Melamine. A question we should have been asking, and considering, a long time ago.

from China Dialogue’s article Consumers must say no to additives

Melamine is not a regular food additive, and its appearance in products made by Sanlu and other firms indicates criminal behaviour. But should government-approved food additives be trusted either? The large-scale use of food additives may increase production to some extent, but it has a significant impact on quality, and some of these foods may be a danger to public health. Pigs that used to take a year to reach maturity now take only four months, while hormones are used to ready chickens for slaughter in only 45 days. People used to be confident that herbivores, such as cows and sheep, would not be fed additives, yet the quest for greater profits mean that these animals are now fed additive-laden chicken feed and leanness enhancers.

While on home leave a few years back, I was watching a reality TV show where a trainer was telling a bunch of people “If it comes in a box, don’t eat it”, and I think that through this recent scandal we will see a whole host of other chemical issues come out into the light.

For me personally, as a resident of China and as someone conscious of what I am eating, I have a list of things that I have been doing my best to avoid for a long time..

1) Milk (Dairy and Soy based) – I wasn’t worried about melamine, I was worried about hormones/ antibiotics use.  This is one of those things that I have been looking at for a while. What I have found interesting through this crisis in confidence is that no one is looking at soy milk.  It is not all that different in process if you remove the obvious difference between a cow and soybean.  Both can be watered down, both can be thickened, both are really a collection of a million units into one….

2) Fish/ Seafood – after driving by much of Tianjin’s fisheries on the way to an investment zone, it was clear to me that the fish were probably eating more exhaust from trucks than feed meal.  I recently learned that if you are going to eat fish anywhere in the world, pick smaller fish.  Fish like Tuna (even wild) have higher concentrations of metals because they are at the top of the food chain…. mackerel, anchovies, and other small fish will have some level of metals, but not at the same levels as tuna

4) Meat in large quantity – meat in China is something that I have come to distrust more and more, and it is not because I have seen anything particularly bad here.  It is that I read books like The Jungle, Fast Food Nation, and Omnivores Dilemma, and I know what is being done in the US.  It is not a China based thing for me, this one is global.

5) Instant noodles – I once worked on a project for a large starch firm, and through this project I learned a lot about starchy foods and how companies can mess with them.  Like Aluminum, there are many different grades of starches, and through the process of “reformulation” many firms will find the right “balance”

6) Anything in a box – Imported or domestic, anything that comes in a box has chemicals in it.  The food industry calls them stabilizers, but farmers will call them something else.

7) Processed meats – This recent pictorial (h/t CSR Asia) should be enough.

8) Shit on a stick – it is everywhere in China.  Local groceries, outside stalls, etc.. and it comes in many varieties… but let’s be clear about what that stuff really is (even iff it looks like a hot dog, or a chicken foot, or a whoKNOWSwhat)… it is shit on a stick and it should not be eaten

Going forward, I suspect that China’s consumers (and the world’s) are growing a lot more aware about the food they eat  , and will start making decisions based on their level of awareness. When I was 3 my mom put me on the Feingold diet and for 4 years I was on essentially an organic diet without refined sugars or starches…. pretty progressive for the 70s, but I am seeing it now more and more as my friends and family have  children of their own.

Where this leaves us, I am not sure, but what I am sure of is that the systemic problem we are seeing is not simply a China problem.  It is a global one, and while all roads may lead to China right now, it is only a matter of time before the media picks up on the wider problems that are found in our food chain.

If you have a category of food you avoid, let us know.

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10 Responses to “Even My iPhone May Have Melamine”

  1. Even My iPhone May Have Melamine says:

    October 2nd, 2008 at 6:32 am

    […] iPhone 3G wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptWhat is interesting is that this is not just a China problem, it is one that has been found in other regions of the world that consider themselves to be at the “Western Standard”. You know.. Australia and New Zealand. … […]

  2. Erica Schlaikjer says:

    October 3rd, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    When will people realize that food is the cornerstone of global health and prosperity? If we mess up our food system, we mess up everything. China’s “Green Food” labeling system is a good first step towards creating an organic culture, but considering the government is all about image, I sincerely hope there are enough watchdogs and responsible citizens out there who can separate truth from propaganda, and labels from substance. Allowing for a free press is one way to foster that dialogue. So keep on bloggin’!

  3. ResponsibleChina.com: Environmental sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship in China. | Responsible Roundup: Food is dangerous, China has two faces, Wokai needs your help, and I wonder what Palin knows about China? says:

    October 3rd, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    […] DON’T EAT ANYTHING. YET. Yeah, melamine milk sucks. But so does a lot of other crap we ingest, as Rich Brubaker points out in his recent post: “Even my iPhone may have melamine.“ […]

  4. Rich says:

    October 4th, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Hi Erica.

    Quick point – I worked on a project 2-3 years back for a starch firm (very interesting work) and part of the study was to look at the credibility of Green Labeling in China. Simply put – consumers do not have faith in any of the domestic green labels. People seem to know that these labeling programs hav a lot of problems…. do not account for use of land before the “organic” farm was brought in (could have been a chemical plant before)… and the ongoing audits are typically a joke as well.

    The only one people trust (to date) – USDA organic

    Was actually having a conversation here in Thailand with some people about this, and they themselves (Chinese) bring in a lot of stuff whenever they can… it is becoming one of those topics that ends with… Why are we here???

  5. Rich says:

    October 4th, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    sorry folks.. I forgot one.

    8 ) Sauces – any sauce can be perverted very easily (powders too) . I typically stick to the basics, and buy foreign when I can (I have half suitcase from Thailand!)

    Any sauces that are thick have stabilizers and thickener agents in there, and it is essentially here where you can really dumb things down.

  6. China Journal : Best of the China Blogs: October 6 says:

    October 6th, 2008 at 1:54 am

    […] doesn’t have melamine? A longtime foreign resident discusses how his food choices have changed by living in China all these years. [All Roads Lead to […]

  7. Richard Gould says:

    October 6th, 2008 at 2:57 am

    I’m reminded of a post David Dayton wrote on the SRI blog, something to the effect of “If we heeded every food warning here, we would never eat.”

    Also, don’t knock shit on a stick.

  8. Rich says:

    October 6th, 2008 at 3:07 am


    There is some truth to that. In fact while in Thailand we were discussing this subject and just getting more and more down. Where I would counter is that there are options, real options, in Shanghai and Beijing now for buying organic goods and eating at restaurants that only use the best quality of goods (without gouging you).

    In Shanghai there is Ginger – Element Fresh – Shanghai Organic – Gourmet Noodles – Organic hotpot – Haya’s Mediteranian – and a host of vegetarian places that keep us busy.


  9. Richard Gould says:

    October 6th, 2008 at 3:12 am

    I live in Guangzhou, so my list of restaurants is a bit–um–less sophisticated than in Shanghai. But you are correct, both Shanghai and Beijing have developed a nice array of choices.

  10. Rich says:

    October 6th, 2008 at 3:27 am

    Well.. let me know if you find some. I am putting together a guide of restaurants for one of my other sites (www.cleanergreenerchina.com).

    If nothing else… stick to the less exotic varieties of the GD menu.