A woman shops for vegetables in a Beijing market.

I am deeply trouble by the chinese milk scandal which is making waves around the world and has thus created increasing food safety repercussions, with many countries banning or restricting melamine tainted milk products, fruits and vegetables imported from China.

So, what is this melamine thing which is causing so much havoc, misery and death and received so much attention around the world in so short a time?

Melamine the word, was coined by combining the names of 2 chemicals – Melam and Amine. Melamine is the chemical name. Melamine was first synthesized by a German chemist by the name of Justus von Liebig in 1834. Melamine is a white crystalline compound C3H6N6.

Melamine is an industrial chemical use for making plastics, foam, cleaning products, fabrics, glues and is one of the major components in Pigment Yellow 150 which is a colourant in inks and plastics.

Melamine when mixed with watered-down milk can make the milk appear richer in protein acting as a decoy protein enhancer. It is said that if 1 liter of milk with melamine is added with water, it can produce 4 liters of milk and the protein test will show that the milk is high in protein and it will surely pass the milk test.

Melamine is also used as a fertilizer for crops because of its high nitrogen contents. Melamine is also used as a pesticide and this is something once I reveal is going to ring alarm bells for sure.

Cyromazine is a derivative of melamine. Cyromazine is a pesticide which metabolises into melamine in animals and plants. In simple language, melamine is formed in the body of mammals who have ingested the pesticide cyromazine. And in plants, cyromazine is converted into melamine after being sprayed with cyromazine pesticide.

Cyromazine is a systemic poison which means that if insects or humans feeding on a plant to which a systemic poison has been applied will die soon after ingestion. Cyromazine pesticide is used to control leaf miners in vegetables and fruits. in china, cyromazine is used commonly as a foliar spray to control leaf miner insects in star fruits, guava, mandarin oranges, melons, tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli and Chinese cabbages.

So the presence of melamine in fruits and vegetables imported from China which was recently highlighted by the South Korean government was due to the usage of the pesticide cyromazine.

Now the million dollar question is, DO OUR FARMERS IN SABAH also use the pesticide cyromazine? The answer is YES.

Remember the article in Daily Express on 6th July, 2008, “Sabahans Still Being Poisoned“, where I talked about banned pesticides available and is used by the farmers in Sabah, and I mentioned a product called NEPOREX? Well, this product Neporex contains cyromazine a derivative of melamine and this is the product used by the farmers in China and due to the usage of this product the South Korean government discovered melamine contents in the vegetables and fruits imported from China.

Sets new alarm bells ringing? Sure it does!

And what are the symptoms and signs of melamine poising other than stone in kidney and death? Irritability, blood in urine, little or no urine, kidney infection, high blood pressure and constant pain in the stomach.

The Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, in Kota Kinabalu recently, said that the level four check will be applied at all food products including vegetables and fruits imported from China, whereby samples will be taken for safety analysis before it is released in the market. He said this after the South Korean government found melamine contents in vegetables and fruits imported from China.

While it may be reassuring that certain preventive steps have been taken by the Health Ministry, the public also knows that the scope of imported food stuff is so vast and therefore effective public safety is doubtful.

And if cyromazine is also used as a pesticide locally by our farmers, which we know they are, then, the contamination spread of melamine could be severely underestimated.

And the Health Minister, saying that melamine screening is only done on imported food from China and he not saying anything on the local fruits and vegetables does not make sense at all. Comprehensive safeguards are needed not only for imported food originating from China but also vegetables and fruits from here, which is also a suspect.

And perhaps, the Health Minister should also let the public know if we actually have enough screening facilities/laboratories to test melamine/cyromazine, other than the Chemistry Department in Kota Kinabalu.

The Health Ministry must be on the top of the situation and remain constantly vigilant and should work more closely with the public and let the public know of the real situation and don’t hide the facts. The Health Ministry should be pro-active and lead in the drive for public safety and awareness and not just wait for complaints and medical casualties before acting, as damage would have already been done. If there are any weaknesses in the delivery system the Health Ministry should admit it and try to rectify it.

We must also not be too dependent on foreign health institutes to obtain findings for us, instead, we should work for a credible research of our own and it must be available everywhere in Malaysia, especially, Sabah and Sarawak. A competent state-of-art food research agency is a must for Sabah and Sarawak and check and test should be mandatory.

Perhaps, it is high time Malaysia takes a serious view on consumer health protection.

Selvaraja Somiah

Selvaraja has been involved in the pesticide industry for 20 over years and he can be contacted at selvaraja_1@hotmail.com

Also see Malaysia Today:  http://mt.m2day.org/2008/content/view/14479/84/

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