Day: May 1, 2007

Melamine – And Cyanuric Acid, A deadly pair?

Like melamine, cyanuric acid is also used to artificially increase the nitrogen content of the food (detected as protein in protein tests).

ScienceDaily: Pet Food Recall: How Melamine Impairs Kidney Function

Perry Martos and colleagues in the Agriculture and Food Laboratory at Guelph’s Laboratory Services have found that melamine and cyanuric acid can react with one another to form crystals that may impair kidney function. Tests conducted at the University’s Animal Health Laboratory (AHL) and elsewhere have identified these crystal-like substances in the kidneys and urine of affected animals. The experiments conducted at the Agriculture and Food Laboratory showed that the chemical composition of the crystals that are formed when these two compounds interact matches the composition of urinary crystals removed from affected animals. Tests conducted at the University’s Laboratory and in the United States have identified the compounds as contaminants in gluten used to make a variety of pet food and treat products.

Interestingly enough, the analytical test for cyanuric acid is to precipitate it with Melamine, so it is not as if these guys “discovered” this reaction, as the press release seems to intimate. There is also speculation that the  cyanuric acid was a metabolic byproduct of melamine from bacterial action, which is possible if the gluten was not stored correctly. It seems to me that Chinese manufacturers were using melamine or cyanuric acid to boost protein content for a while now. But it may have been only recently that they started adding both to the same food. The other possibility (and have you ever read the ingredients list in pet food, it takes a while!), is that one ingredient contained melamine, the other, cyanuric acid and when mixed…

Either way, neither of these compounds belong in pet food.

Why India is a Prominent Global Warming Sceptic

I grew up in Chennai, proudly known as the automotive capital of India and home to Standard Motors. While it makes me very happy to see Chennai back on the automotive map, it also points me to the fact that India needs to be involved in the long-term reduction of heat-trapping emissions. This is not going to help…

BBC NEWS | Business | India eyes 25 million automotive jobs

India’s labour intensive car industry has become a tremendous job creator and as such a crucial driver of economic growth.

Already, some 10 million people are working in factories across India – making cars and motorcycles, tractors and trucks – or in sales and service centres.

And their numbers are set to swell.

By 2016, the automotive industry should have created employment for 25 million people in India, according to government predictions, set out in its Automotive Mission Plan.

I realize that India has a loooooooooooooong way to go before it catches up with the US and the rest of the developed world as far as per capita heat-trapping emissions are concerned. I also admit that infrastructure development, job creation, manufacturing prowess, etc., are critical for India in order to mitigate its soul crushingly large poverty and development issues. But, by putting so much emphasis on conventional car technology, and putting so many more CO2 emitting monsters on the road, India is putting itself in a position of playing the development vs. environment game.

Is it necessary that India and China tread the same path as the U.S and Europe? Does India have to make and use cars that are built using technology developed prior to our knowledge of global warming? The same company that gets cautious praise from the Union of Concerned Scientists for its “leadership” role in global warming will turn around and build factories in India that carry the status quo forward for another 30 years. When you’re starting from the foundation, and you know that the plans provided to you will lead to your house crumbling in 20 years, would you use the plans anyway because your contractor provides you with no alternative? The logical answer seems to be no, but is this process logic driven, or enforced by the existing power structure?

The vehicle industry is entrenched in the US and therefore, resistant to change. It is understandable, not optimal, not desirable, shortsighted, etc., but understandable. Change requires effort, and a lot of the time, the effort is motivated by external factors, such as strict regulation. Without these external factors, it is very easy to keep chugging along merrily.

But, does India have to make the same mistakes? Does India have a choice here? I am afraid not. The pressure to build infrastructure quickly leads India to seek foreign investment and the investment will only come in the way of companies like Ford. And Ford will do exactly what it needs to do to make money in the short term (apparently, they’re not very good at that either!).

What is the answer? The developed countries have to pass legislation that pretty much forces the car companies’ hand. Strict increases in fuel economy standards, tightening of loopholes, and strict enforcement are all required. As this UCS report shows, fuel efficiency improvements of up to 40% are possible using run of the mill technology (as in, no hybrids, no electrics, nothing). But this is not sufficient. While the US market is focused enough that the highest regulation (California) pretty much drives the market, will car companies simply make a set of third world cars and a set of first world cars?

There’s clearly another piece to the puzzle, encouraging technology transfer of the most carbon efficient technologies to emerging markets so that they can build infrastructure correctly, using current knowledge instead of following the only blueprint currently available to them. Yes, this hits upon intellectual property issues at times, but when your village is being submerged by the sea, intellectual property needs to take a back seat. This technology transfer needs to happen either through incentives (tax breaks, non-profit/UN funding), or disincentives (carbon taxes, etc.). the Kyoto Protocol does have some technology transfer programs built in, but without the participation of the US, the protocol is not going to work.

Do I see any of this happening? Not really, so I guess we’re stuck with recycled global warming denialism like this one from one of India’s prominent columnists.

Almost as soon as the Kyoto Protocol on global warming came into effect on February 15, Kashmir suffered the highest snowfall in three decades with over 150 killed, and Mumbai recorded the lowest temperature in 40 years. Had temperatures been the highest for decades, newspapers would have declared this was proof of global warming. But whenever temperatures drop, the press keeps quiet.

Yes, the country that produces great intellectuals has come down to this. But, this is the prevailing wind in India. As a country, it has swallowed the American line on development being at odds with the environment. As a country, it is poised to greatly increase its heat-trapping emissions and fight vigorously, any efforts to restrict its emissions. India is right in most ways, its per capita energy consumption is miniscule. It already only uses half the energy per dollar of GDP that the US uses (of course, this is at the expense of quality of life for millions). So, any attempts at pointing fingers at China and India are irresponsible. But, that is the past. Looking forward, every country needs to use the most efficient technologies possible, and this Ford factory driven development model ain’t gonna work.

I leave you with the energy intensity chart…

Melamine – The FDA Says the Right Things

But can it follow up?

FDA limits Chinese food additive imports –

The Food and Drug Administration is enforcing a new import alert that greatly expands its curtailment of some food ingredients imported from China, authorizing border inspectors to detain ingredients used in everything from noodles to breakfast bars.

The new restriction is likely to cause delays in the delivery of raw ingredients for the production of many commonly used products.

Inspectors are now allowed to detain vegetable-protein imports from
China because they may contain the chemical melamine. Melamine, used in
the manufacture of plastics, was found in the wheat gluten and rice
protein concentrate that has led to the recall of 5,300 pet food

Good, and about time. The FDA cites “control issues” in issuing this alert.

Now for the products to reach U.S. foodmakers, the importers will have
to prove to the FDA that they are safe. The ingredients restricted
include wheat gluten, rice gluten, rice protein, rice protein
concentrate, corn gluten, corn gluten meal, corn by-products, soy
protein, soy gluten, mung-bean protein and amino acids.

Excellent stuff, exactly what was needed, to put the onus on the manufacturer to prove safety. Here’s the FDA’s press release.

The onus, of course, is on enforcement. Can the FDA identify every item on this list, and quarantine it until a certificate is produced? Can it subject a random number of these products to independent verification to avoid cheating? Does it have the resources? Does it have the inspectors? Stay tuned.

Tuesdays with Turtles – Poaching in Mexico

This article brings up some interesting information about sea turtle poaching in Mexico, including the fact that sea turtle eggs are considered aphrodisiacal in certain cultures…

Real Men Don’t Eat Turtle Eggs : To Fight Turtle Poaching, Campaigners Hit Below the Belt (By C.J. Bahnsen)

But there have been recent gains. WiLDCOAST, a small conservation organization also co-founded by Nichols, has implemented a media campaign. It started in 2005, when Argentine singer and Playboy model Dorismar attracted controversial attention by appearing in television and poster PSAs, hitting Mexican men—who eat turtle eggs mistakenly believing they are aphrodisiacs—below the belt. The message above a salacious Dorismar reads: “My man doesn’t need to eat turtle eggs; because he knows they don’t make him more potent.” The bold campaign reached a global audience of 300 million and resulted in a decrease in consumption of sea turtle eggs.

Well, the unfortunate thing about aphrodisiacs is that if you believe, it works! So, I guess a Playboy model telling you that sea turtles eggs are baloney may work. They author does say there was a decrease in consumption, but presumably, it is not quite that easy to ascribe causation relationships to particular parts of a campaign!

Other highlights…

Turtle smuggling is thought to be a proving ground, a gateway into drug trafficking. Mexico is the principal transit country for 70 to 90 percent of cocaine entering the U.S., and the largest outside source of
marijuana and methamphetamine.

This, I did not know.

Grupo Tortuguero continues its David-vs.-Goliath efforts to co-opt fishermen and volunteers from Baja’s fishing communities to monitor, tag and protect sea turtles. The group has dozens of sites along the peninsula and all have drug issues, ranging from trafficking to addiction. “I’ve interacted with fishers who were not ‘poachers,’ but were poaching for money to feed their habit,” says Nichols

The article is interesting because it points out the similarities between sea turtle smuggling and drug smuggling, the use of young women, the co-opting of users to become dealers, the bribery of local officials, the organization to avoid capture, etc. Hmm…