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Food Safety Inspectors Head to China to Investigate Melamine.

Melamine, a chemical made from coal, has been reported as the deadly ingredient found in the pet food that has killed a number of pets in recent weeks. Officials in China said Sunday that the chemical has been secretely added to animal feed for years.

The general manger of a Chinese chemical company spoke to the International Herald Tribune about melamine. He said that melamine scraps are routinely bought by companies and added to their animal feeds. The chemical resembles protien in tests, so it adds some value to the food, although it has no nutritional value.

"I don't know if there's a regulation on it," said Ji Denghui of the Fujian Sanming Dinghui Chemical Company. " Probably not. No law or regulation says 'don't do it,' so everyone's doing it. The laws in China are like that, aren't they? If there's no accident, there won't be any regulation."

Melamine is not believed to be highly toxic, which makes it suprising that it became so lethal in pet foods. Still, the chemical's presence in any form of American food is illegal.

The Chicago Tribune reported that melamine has now spread to humans. Forty-five people in California reportedly consumed pork from hogs that had melamine added to their feed.

The effects of melamine on humans are not well known. It is belived that melamine is of little harm, but human consumption of the chemical has been rare enough that little effort has been made to study the effects.

"They've known about this for some time," said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), in reference to the FDA. "What did they do with it?"