Years ago, when I lived in an apartment just a block up the street, my downstairs neighbor was jumped by a guy with a knife when she was coming home one evening.
She screamed, people came running (why do you think I live just a block down the street?), and the guy was caught.
At his trial he claimed he was just walking around with his knife looking for a hose to cut so he could siphon some gas.
(Yes, he was convicted.)
I always loved the outraged innocence of it: I wasn't attacking her, I was just vandalizing stuff and stealing gas.
I keep thinking of him when I read this guy (widely quoted) discussing the practice of spiking animal feed with melamine:
Customers either don't know or aren't concerned about the practice,
said Wang Jianhui, manager of the Kaiyuan Protein Feed company in the
northern city of Shijiazhuang.
"We've been running the melamine feed business for about 15
years and receiving positive responses from our customers," Wang said
in a telephone interview.
So it seems the Chinese authorities really were bewildered by all the fuss over melamine.
They've had it in their feed for 15 years, and don't see any problem with that.
Because typically the animals don't die.
Like the poor innocent thug who was only going to syphon some gas.
This was just your basic fraudulent adulteration.
You take this stuff:
Smash it into a powder and add it to low-grade grain products.
Poof, higher measurements of protein (no real nutritive value, but who's keeping track?).
So why do this? According to one feed manufacturer:
“Melamine will cost you about $1.20 for each protein count per ton
whereas real protein costs you about $6, so you can see the
So, really, they were just selling a harmlessly adulterated product.
As they have been doing for 15 years it seems.
(Remind me to go throw out that can of rice protein for smoothies.)
So why do we have 8,000 and counting dead animals?
After all, for 15 years Chinese livestock have been, if not thriving, at least surviving on this stuff.
Seems this batch of melamine was itself adulterated.
Melamine is a by-product of coal mining.
Much of it goes off to make plastic stuff.
The odd bits that remain are salvaged and sold as scrap by guys like this:
A man named Jing, who works in the sales department at the Shandong
Mingshui Great Chemical Group factory here, said on Friday that prices
have been rising, but he said that he had no idea how the company’s
melamine scrap is used.
“We have an auction for melamine scrap every three months,” he
said. “I haven’t heard of it being added to animal feed. It’s not for
So demand has been rising, and therefore prices for scrap rose too.
But then someone cut yet another corner and got a really cheap lot of the stuff.
This lot was the bottom of a barrel somewhere, a deal, and it ended up in wheat gluten, corn protein, and rice protein.
That we know of.
The condemned pet food contain not only melamine, but as many as three other chemicals..
One of these, cyanuric acid, can be a product of bacterial breakdown of melamine.
(it's used to clean swimming pools.)
When combined with melamine, it makes crystals.
Like immediately in a test tube.
Or in a kidney.
In autopsies they've been finding the victims' kidneys just packed full of these crystals.
So, does crime pay?
At this end we have people paying for what they believe is a food product.
We have $6.00/ton for real protein – $1.20/ton for melamine.
So that's $4.80 profit for replacing food with an inedible chemical.
According to the New York Times, Xuzhou Anying
Biologic Technology Development Company of China has shipped more than
700 tons of wheat gluten to the U.S. this year through a third-party
Chinese textile company, Suzhou Textiles Silk Light and Industrial
Products, labeling the product as nonfood.
(Nonfood – that's for sure.)
So we have 700 tons X $4.80 = $3,360, for the profit in replacing food with melamine.
And what about the inflated price of the product itself?
Someone bought the stuff believing it to be higher quality than it really was.
How much did adulterating the product increase its price?
Another expert informs us that in China:
"For every percent of protein you gain, you can make 55 yuan. So if you
can turn 38 percent protein soymeal into 43 percent meal, you can make
more than 200 yuan per ton," said the manager.
So 43% – 38% = %5 change X 55 yuan each = 225 yuan/ton profit.
Today's exchange rate is $1.00 = 7.728 yuan, so that's (um) 225 yuan divided by 7.728 = $1.91 (I think).
So $1.91 profit/ton X 700 tons = $1,337 profit from adding melamine.
Of course here we are talking soy, rather than wheat or rice gluten.
(Remind me to go throw out my soy protein powder for making smoothies.)
And prices within China rather than at point of sale to the US.
Still, I think it's good enough for a ball park guess.
As a rough estimate then, $1,337 + $3,360.
Round it off and call it $5,000 excess profit on 7oo tons.
Minus, of course, the cost of that bargain basement melamine.