Melamine: Why is it in the pet foods
Melamine cannot accidently enter the food supply chain – it must be intentionally added. The FDA has discovered that some import companies knowingly added melamine to carbohydrate sources as a way to “boost” apparent protein levels. Melamine is cheap and readily available. Chemically speaking, melamine contains 6 nitrogen atoms. Since the test used to detect crude protein content in foods relies on the number of nitrogen atoms present in the sample, spiking a food ingredient with melamine creates a false protein reading. Higher crude protein levels allow companies to charge more for their ingredient.
Melamine is not an approved food additive and should not be detectable in any ingredient or final product intended for human or animal consumption. Generally, high doses are required to cause acute poisoning, but if coupled with cyanuric acid, the two chemicals act in concert, their effects magnifying even at extremely low doses. Neither chemical should be in pet food at any level.
Experts on melamine emphasize that the chemical needs to be ingested at levels over 1,000-2,000 ppm to be considered toxic. However, there are extreme cases where underlying medical conditions have exacerbated melamine toxicity. Conditions that enhance melamine crystal formation and precipitation include the following:
1. Concentrated urine, most common in dehydrated animals and felines
2. High uric acid (urates) levels, such as humans with a history of gout or pets with calcium oxalate crystals/stones
3. Other toxins such as cyanuric acid
As stated above, cyanuric acid, another chemical discovered in tainted pet food (e.g. rice protein concentrate), acts in synergy with melamine. Alone, cyanuric acid is like melamine, it requires high levels to be considered toxic. However, scientists at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, have been able to reproduce crystals found in deceased pets’ kidneys by combining low levels of melamine and cyanuric acid with urine in the lab. This is believed to the primary cause of kidney damage associated with the current recalled products; melamine and cyanuric acid work in synergy, requiring lower quantities to reach toxicity level.