The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Melamine Update

Melamine Update

Food Safety Update

October 26, 2008

Consumers first became aware of the dangers of the chemical melamine when it was found in pet food ingredients made in China last year, sickening thousands of cats and dogs in the United States. Now, these dangers are in the spotlight again, as melamine-contaminated milk products have sickened more than 50,000 children in China. At least four of the sick have died.

Melamine can artificially pump up protein levels in foods, and adding the chemical for this purpose has become an increasingly common practice in China. In this latest scare, popular Chinese baby formula brand Sanlu was found to contain the highest level of contaminants. Twenty-two additional Chinese dairy companies also tested positive for selling products containing melamine.

But the contaminated products have not been limited to Chinese borders. British-based Cadbury recalled 11 Chinese-made products from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia earlier this month as a precaution. Melamine has since been detected in excessive amounts in two types of Cadbury chocolate. 

And there’s more. White Rabbit Creamy Candies from China, sold in both the U.S. and New Zealand, were recalled with melamine levels as high as 520 parts per million. New Jersey-based Tristar Food Wholesale Co. Inc. recalled several flavors of Blue Cat Flavor Drink, a yogurt drink manufactured in China, after the FDA found that it too contained melamine.

There is no approved use for melamine in human or animal food in the United States. However, the Food and Drug Administration recently announced that consuming a very small amount of the chemical – 2.5 parts per million to be exact – poses no serious risk. The exception is melamine in baby formula.

Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chairwoman of the Agriculture-FDA Appropriations Subcommittee, finds this announcement frustrating. She says that by not insisting on a zero-tolerance policy with melamine, the FDA is failing to protect consumers.

“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. Not only is this an insult to consumers, but it would appear that the FDA is condoning the intentional contamination of foods,” she says.

Stephanie Kwisnek, spokesperson for the FDA, insists otherwise. She says that establishing a level of public health concern was an act designed to protect the American public, and that the level of acceptable melamine was developed using the standard scientific approach for evaluating human health risks. Plus, giving a measurable number to the problem by no means condones “intentional contamination.”

“Products that deliberately contain melamine, as in this case,” says Kwisnek, “are considered adulterated under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and are subject to enforcement action.”

Although there is no baby formula approved for use in the U.S. that is manufactured in China, there is still some FDA concern that illegal infant formula may be sold in Asian and ethnic markets. This happened in 2004, when fake Chinese baby formula (that killed dozens in the Chinese city of Fuyang) was found in an American store. The FDA is advising consumers not to purchase infant formula manufactured in China from Internet sites or from other sources.

For the most updated information on the melamine contamination situation, visit: