How Much Melamine is Too Much?

The Washington Post reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided that melamine is ok in foods in very small amounts:

American consumers first learned of the dangers of melamine when it was found last year in pet food ingredients made in China. The Chinese suppliers of the bulk ingredients had been adding the melamine, officials determined, to boost the apparent protein levels in product testing.

At that time of course, the FDA said that melamine did not belong in foods and any food found to contain melamine was considered adulterated. Now:

The FDA set 2.5 parts per million as the maximum “tolerable” amount of melamine that could be safely consumed in other foods [besides baby formula, which is the exception to the new FDA rule]. [bracketed addition=mine]

Hmm, call me unconvinced as to the safety of daily melamine consumption – in any amount. Some consumers in Thailand seem equally suspicious and question their FDA’s handling of the melamine situation:

Public Health Minister Chalerm Yubamrung did little to convince consumers otherwise when, seeking to downplay the milk scandal last Wednesday, he spoke more on the health of trade relations, than of, well, health.


Minister Chalerm’s position was echoed by FDA deputy secretarty-general Narangsan Peerakit, who then evaded further questions from reporters, saying that “the minister’s policy is that news reports should not have a negative impact on Chinese products”.

That has a familiar ring to it! Those FDAs must share the same playbook.

A newspaper in Taiwan noted that the new US FDA rule on melamine allows significantly higher amounts of the toxin than last year’s ruling which came after it was discovered that some feed animals had been fed melamine tainted pet food:

In the case of the US, the FDA said on Friday on its Web site that “in food products other than infant formula, the FDA concludes that levels of melamine and melamine-related compounds below 2.5 parts per million do not raise concerns.”

But Hsieh Yen-yao, vice superintendent of the Koo Foundation Sun Yet-Sen Cancer Center, said the US FDA had set a level of 0.05ppm for pork, chicken, fish and eggs.

That restriction is stated in the FDA’s risk assessment from last May.

Again, hmm. Perhaps the FDA document being referred to is this one but in any case, there appears to be some disagreement over “safe levels” of melamine in foods. Fluid risk assessment to fit current circumstances? I don’t know but I tend to agree with Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro (D – CT), chair of the FDA Appropriations Subcommittee:

While other countries throughout the world, including the European Union, are acting to ban melamine-contaminated products from China, the FDA has chosen to establish an acceptable level for melamine in food in an attempt to convince consumers that it is not harmful. Not only is this is an insult to consumers, but it would appear that the FDA is condoning the intentional contamination of foods.

I hope Rep. DeLauro and her subcommittee fund the FDA to advance food safety inspections, especially on imports which have proven to be very risky. Domestically, the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank is currently shutting down due to lack of funding. The program tested meat, eggs and dairy products for environmental contaminants, pesticides and drugs.

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