FDA Claims Some Melamine OkayOct 6, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is saying that tiny traces of melamine, the chemical at the center of the food safety scandal originating in China, are not harmful in most foods, except baby formula.
FDA safety experts say that eating a small amount of melamine—2.5 parts per million (ppm)—would not raise health concerns, even if a person ate melamine-tainted food every day. "It would be like if you had a million grains of sand and they were all white, and you had two or three that were black, that's kind of the magnitude," said Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's food safety program. Bear in mind, that the FDA defends the use of BPA (Bisphenol-A)—the estrogen-mimicking chemical—in baby bottles and other consumer goods, despite numerous studies pointing to its dangers.
The FDA guideline on melamine is meant to help federal and state investigators checking for contaminated foods from China at ports of entry and in Asian community groceries nationwide. "We are trying to identify products that have levels we are really concerned about, rather than trying to find the last molecule," said Sundlof.
Melamine is used to make plastics, fertilizer, and fire retardants and is known to cause kidney stones and can lead to kidney failure. Melamine-contaminated powdered milk has been blamed for the illnesses of some 54,000 children and the deaths of four infants in China, mostly with kidney problems. Melamine possesses high nitrogen contents, which causes it to falsify protein levels in foods; the toxic chemical was added to watered-down baby formula to create the impression of high protein levels in the diluted products. Melamine is known to cause kidney problems when ingested because it can cause kidney stones as the body tries to eliminate it.
The toxin has been discovered in products sold across Asia, including candies, chocolates, coffee drinks, yogurt, ice cream and pizza, all of which used dairy ingredients from China. Here, in the United States, White Rabbit candies imported from China were recalled and a New Jersey company announced it was recalling “Blue Cat Flavor Drink,” a yogurt-type drink from China, after FDA testing found melamine. While the FDA says infant formula sold here is safe because manufacturers do not use ingredients from China, officials expect an increase in melamine-related recalls as products in ethnic markets continue to be tested.
The 2.5 ppm standard is meant to address situations in which melamine accidentally comes into contact with food. For example, plastic food processing equipment may have been made using melamine and some melamine could then taint the food. Regarding Infant formula sold to U.S. Consumers, the FDA says it must be completely free of melamine. "There is too much uncertainty to set a level in infant formula and rule out any public health concern," the FDA said.
As a result of the ongoing and ever widening scandal, police in China have detained 22 people suspected of involvement in introducing melamine into the supply chain.