WHO Makes Melamine RecommendationDec 8, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended tighter controls on the industrial chemical melamine to avoid more food contamination scandals similar to what China has experienced this year. According to a report on Bloomberg.com, the WHO melamine recommendations could lead to tighter standards for food in both the U.S. and Europe, as WHO's guidance is used by governments to set their minimum food safety standards.
Melamine is a renal toxin that can cause kidney stones and acute renal failure if ingested in large amounts. Last week, Chinese health officials reported that melamine might have sickened as many as 294,000 children. At least 50,000 children were hospitalized, and six have died. The melamine was apparently added to milk powder by manufacturers to make it appear that their watered-down baby formula was more nutritious than it really was.
Melamine has since been found in dozens of foods around the world that had been made with Chinese-manufactured milk powder. More than 13 countries, including the U.S., discovered products made with melamine-tainted ingredients. The list of tainted food included candy, yogurt, frozen desserts, biscuits, instant coffee, milk tea products, and other beverages.
Last month, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it had detected "trace amounts" of melamine in some U.S.-made baby formula, although formula manufacturers in this country do not use Chinese-supplied ingredients. Another sample of U.S. made formula had tested positive for a trace amount of cyanuric acid, an analogue of melamine. An FDA source interviewed by The Wall Street Journal speculated that the contamination was the result of contact with the chemicals during processing and packaging.
Before the melamine contamination was discovered, the FDA has said it could not determine any safe level for the chemical in formula. However, days after the melamine discovery was made public, the agency reversed course.
“Amounts of the industrial chemical melamine or the melamine-like compound called cyanuric acid that are below 1.0 ppm [1,000 parts per billion] do not raise public health concerns,” Stephen Sundlof, the FDA’s director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told CNN.con
While the FDA was still not able to determine a safe level for infant formula containing both melamine and cyanuric acid compounds, officials said they “believe that at very low levels there should not be any health concerns.”
The WHO panel, which met in Ottawa this week, has set the tolerable amount of melamine in food a person can ingest daily without “appreciable health risk” at 0.2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, Bloomberg.com said. According to the Associated Press, that means a 110-pound person could tolerate 10 milligrams of melamine per day.
However, the WHO panel insisted that its recommendation does not represent a "safe" level for melamine, but merely the amount a human being can consume without higher health risk, the Associated Press said. The panel also made clear its contention that there is no good reason to have any melamine in food products at all.