FDA issues interim safety and risk assessment of melamine. So how much melamine is allowed? What about infant formula?

October 3, 2008

In an attempt to make the melamine-tainted infant formula/food situation clearer, FDA has managed to make it even more confusing. Today’s FDA press release:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today issued the results of its interim safety and risk assessment of melamine and melamine-related compounds in food, including infant formula.

A safety/risk assessment is a scientifically based methodology used to estimate the risk to human health from exposure to specified compounds. It is based on available data and certain scientific assumptions in the absence of data. The purpose of the FDA interim safety/risk assessment was to identify the level of melamine and melamine-related compounds in food which would not raise public health concerns. The interim safety/risk assessment evaluated the melamine exposure in infant formula and in other foods.

The safety/risk assessment, prompted by reports of melamine contamination of milk-derived ingredients and finished food products containing milk manufactured in China,  was conducted by scientists from FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and the Center for Veterinary Medicine.  The FDA reviewed scientific literature on melamine toxicity.

Infant Formula

FDA is currently unable to establish any level of melamine and melamine-related compounds in infant formula that does not raise public health concerns.  In large part, this is because of gaps in our scientific knowledge about the toxicity of melamine and its analogues in infants, including:

  1. the consequences of the continuous use of infant formulas as the sole source of nutrition;
  2. the uncertainties associated with the possible presence and co-ingestion of more than one melamine analogue; and
  3. for premature infants with immature kidney function, the possibility that they may be  fed these formulas as the sole source of nutrition and thus on  a body weight basis experience greater levels of intake for a longer time than is experienced by term infants.

There is too much uncertainty to set a level in infant formula and rule out any public health concern. However, it is important to understand that this does not mean that any exposure to any detectable level of melamine and melamine–related compounds in formula will result in harm to infants.

Other Food Products

In food products other than infant formula, the FDA concludes that levels of melamine and melamine-related compounds below 2.5 parts per million (ppm) do not raise concerns. This conclusion assumes a worst case exposure scenario in which 50% of the diet is contaminated at this level, and applies a 10-fold safety factor to the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) to account for any uncertainties. The TDI is an estimate of the maximum amount of an agent to which an individual could be exposed on a daily basis over the course of a lifetime without an appreciable health risk. 

FDA continues to screen products, collaborate with foreign governments and their regulatory agencies, and monitor reports of contamination from international sources to help ensure that potentially contaminated products from foreign sources are examined if imported into the United States. If products are adulterated because they contain melamine and/or a melamine-related compound, the agency will take appropriate actions to prevent the products from entering commerce.

Melamine first came to the attention of U.S. consumers last year, when it touched off a massive pet food recall. Chinese suppliers of bulk pet food ingredients were found to have been adding the chemical to artificially boost the protein readings of their products. Thousands of pets here were sickened, and hundreds are believed to have died.

Melamine is harmful to the kidneys. It can cause kidney stones as the body tries to eliminate it, and in extreme cases, life-threatening kidney failure.

http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2008/NEW01895.html

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