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Levin: Globalization, Melamine Contamination and Responsibilities of Integrative Practitition PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Michael Levin: On Globalization, Melamine Contamination and Responsibilities of Integrative Practitioners

SummaryIntegrator adviser and columnist Michael Levin often speaks to us from the discomforting chasm between the aspirations of integrative medicine and current realities regarding the natural healthcare products which most integrative practitioners prescribe in their offices. Here, Levin focuses on "economic adulteration" of dietary supplements in the recent story of melamine contamination of infant formulas which caused sickness and death in China. What are the integrative practitioner's responsibilities in raising the bar?
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quality asurance, melamine, integrative medicine
Michael Levin
Nearly a decade ago, Integrator adviser and columnist Michael Levin transited from executive positions in conventional pharmaceuticals and hospital equipment to executive positions in the dietary supplement industry. Levin's columns often focus on product quality issues. Like taking out the garbage, it often isn't pleasant, but thanks to Levin for doing it.


Food Safety: A Public Health Imperative

Michael D. Levin, Health Business Strategies

Amidst the financial market meltdown and endless presidential political kabuki of past weeks, news pertaining to food safety issues has taken a backseat. That's too bad.

As advocates of integrative medicine, this is a reminder that our public health depends on food safety. Globalization has increased the risk of contaminated products entering the US market. This shift demands heightened vigilance of responsible stakeholders on both the supply side (those who are making and selling these products) and the demand side (those who prescribe and consume them) of the commerce equation.


Economic adulteration -
the deliberate addition of
an ingredient designed to
increase the economic value
of the product being sold –
is perhaps the most evil
expression of globalized greed
in the natural products world.

That there were 4 infant mortalities and 60,000 infants recently hospitalized due to melamine contamination of infant formulas underscores this risk.

Economic adulteration – the deliberate addition of an ingredient designed to increase the economic value of the product being sold – is perhaps the most evil expression of globalized greed in the natural products world. In this case, the addition of melamine to pet foods last year to artificially increase the reported protein content morphed into human tragedy when this same strategy was deployed in the Chinese dairy industry.

Though FDA originally believed none of the tainted material reached the US, they issued an advisory on Sept 26 alerting consumers to not purchase instant coffee products under the label “Mr. Brown.” The Taiwanese exporter sourced a non-dairy creamer from a Chinese firm that was found to be contaminated with melamine. Down in New Zealand, the Food Safety Authority reportedly found high levels of melamine in “White Rabbit Creamy Candy.” FDA is not aware of any illnesses in the US due to these products. The FDA press release is at this link.
[Note: Levin wrote a day later: "Looks like FDA found contaminated candy. Sold in WA, OR and elsewhere. Tell your kids." The FDA release on this is here.]

Why didn't quality testing pick up the toxin?

Shijiazhuang, China-based sairy producer Sanlu and at least six other companies on the list of 22 contaminated milk producers had been exempted from national quality checks. Why? According to a September 19, 2008 Reuters story, They were awarded "inspection-free" status as high quality brands trusted to conduct their own quality checks.

On the demand side, it is encouraging to see the issue of product safety capture the attention of the Naturopathic Medical Student Association. How effective their position will be remains to be seen. In the meantime, I encourage those who prescribe dietary supplements to elevate the market demand for authentic, potent and pure products by challenging their suppliers for proof of raw material testing.

On the supply side, suppliers must implement heightened safeguards (i.e., raw material testing) to better protect the public health. Inadequate supply chain management resulted in avoidable disasters associated with drug use (e.g., contaminated heparin, DEG in glycerin). The same could happen again with food products and dietary supplements.

"I write this not to alarm but to increase stakeholder awareness ... "

I write this not to alarm, but to increase stakeholder awareness and, hopefully, to influence change. At the end of the day, we’re all here to help improve health. I’m simply trying to do my part. Your help in this effort will be sincerely appreciated.

Michael D. Levin, Founder
Health Business Strategies
12042 SE Sunnyside Road
Clackamas, OR  97015
503-753-3568 (direct)
503-698-7565 (fax)

Comment: Of course, "economic adulteration" such as adding conventional pharmaceutical agents to supplements is known to be a problem in the Chinese patent formula industry, and elsewhere. Innovision Health Media, through Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal has a Quality Assurance Initiative which provides PDF-available forms practitioners can use to audit their suppliers. Take a look. 

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