Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Melamine and China's Contaminated Milk

Recently, the molecule "melamine" has been in the news. It seems that babies in China are becoming sick because of this chemical, and it has been suggested that the milk in China has been deliberately tainted with the chemical. So the obvious question is why? What is the incentive to put melamine in the milk?

The best theory I've read is that the producers are trying to water down the milk. Milk has protein in it, and if you water the milk down, you dilute the protein content, thus raising the risk that the milk doesn't pass QC. Protein is made up of a carbon-nitrogen backbone, and as you can see from the structure of melamine, it has a lot of nitrogen. So if you supplement watered-down milk with melamine, QC issues are potentially solved.

If true, it's a classic example of motives gone awry. Maybe there isn't enough milk, out there in China, and maybe they do have the best intentions, but the solution to the problem seems to have created a bigger problem in that its toxic. It's the law of unintended consequences at work, and it's pretty ugly when it involves babies.