October 21, 2008 / 8:43 AM / 11 years ago

Hong Kong to test meat, vegetables for melamine

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong will soon begin testing meat, vegetables and processed food for melamine, a move that underlines concerns about environmental contamination and food safety, experts say.

Taiwan Department of Health officials pack milk powder samples for melamine contamination testing in Taipei September 22, 2008. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

Thousands of children in China fell sick with kidney problems in recent months after consuming milk that had been mixed with the plastic-making industrial chemical to cheat quality tests. Four of them died.

It has since emerged that cyromazine, a derivative of melamine, is widely used in pesticides and animal feed in China, and experts say it is absorbed in plants as melamine and that the chemical is already in the human food chain.

However, no one knows how much melamine is absorbed into raw foods such as meat and vegetables, and experts hope Hong Kong’s tests on vegetables and meat will shed some light.

“It’s possible there may be contamination from pesticides ... and there is some concern about vegetables and animal feed,” Kwan Hoishan, a biologist at the Chinese University and member of a government-backed task force working on the melamine problem in Hong Kong, told Reuters.

“We have no idea about the level of contamination in meat and vegetables ... it’s hard to say if (such levels of) melamine are harmful to human health, they would first have to be tested.”

Hong Kong imposed a cap on melamine last month, restricting it to no more than 2.5 milligrams per kilogrammkilograme, while melamine found in food meant for children under 3 and lactating mothers should be no higher than 1 mg per kg.

Experts’ opinions are mixed on the effects of constant exposure very low levels of melamine.

“If it causes environmental contamination (gets into food) through pesticides, the harm should not be too much. Unless you eat a lot of it,” said Ng Chi-fai, a urologist at the Chinese University in Hong Kong.

But others worry about long term exposure.

“It would be easier to ban melamine at all levels to stop this,” said Chan King-ming, associate professor of biochemistry at the Chinese University.

Editing by Alex Richardson

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