Melamine in US Infant Formula- UPDATE

In a previous post, I wrote that trace amounts of melamine had been found in US infant formula.  Melamine is the same harmful chemical that was found in Chinese infant formula, which killed three babies, and sickened as many as 50,000.

Last month, the FDA said they were unable to determine any level of melamine exposure that is safe. But on Friday, they determined that threshold of 1 part per million of melamine in formula is safe, provided a related chemical is not present. This conclusion was drawn with no new studies done, and with only 74 samples being tested.

Melamine becomes harmful when combined with Cyanuric acid.  I wonder if the FDA knows that cyanuric acid is a byproduct of melamine, which means there is a good chance the two chemicals will be found together.  Yet, the FDA insists formula is safe.  When members of Congress and the Illinois attorney general, demanded a national recall of formula,  the FDA said it made no sense because there was no evidence the formula would be harmful for babies at the level of contamination found.   

From an AP article on this issue: A scientist for a national consumer group said it was irresponsible of FDA to assure the public that infant formula is safe based on tests of only 74 samples, especially since cyanuric acid is a byproduct of melamine, making it likely that they will be found together.

“This is a slippery slope of rationalization by FDA,” said Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist with the Consumers Union in New York. “FDA needs to get a handle on how widespread the problem is and, most important, if both these chemicals are occurring in any products. They just haven’t tested enough to know that yet.”

The 1 part per million that the FDA has said is safe, is the same standard public health officials have set in Canada and China, but it is 20 times higher than the most stringent level in Taiwan.

On Wednesday, the FDA posted these results on melamine found in US infant formula producers: Mead Johnson’s Infant Formula Powder, Enfamil LIPIL with Iron found melamine at levels of 0.137 and 0.14 parts per million. Three tests of Nestle’s Good Start Supreme Infant Formula with Iron detected an average of 0.247 parts per million of cyanuric acid.

The third major formula maker – Abbott Laboratories, whose brands include Similac – told AP that in-house tests had detected trace levels of melamine in its infant formula. Those levels were below what FDA found in the other formulas, an Abbott spokesman said, and below any national safety guidelines.

This seems totally irresponsible of the FDA.  They are completely ignoring the risks that melamine can post to infants. Babies have underdeveloped systems, and there are not enough studies that have been done to determine what levels any exposure to melamine can pose to a baby.  What about babies who are born pre-mature, or may be sick-what affect does exposure to melamine have on these babies?  What are the long-term risks to babies who are exposed daily to melamine?  What steps and quality control issues are formula companies taking to assure parents their formulas are safe, and will not have any melamine in them?

Sadly, it seems like this declaration from the FDA creates more questions than answers.  Jenna, a mother of an infant who is fed Similac from Abbott Laboratories, received this letter from Abbott, in response to her concerns about her baby’s formula:

Hello Jenna,

Thank you for contacting Abbott Nutrition.

Abbott infant formulas are completely safe and we stand behind them.

Melamine is not an ingredient or additive in our formula.

The type of melamine found in trace amounts in infant formula is
approved for food contact and is used in all sorts of food packaging
including some infant formula containers. These trace amounts of
melamine have not been shown to cause health problems.

By contrast, the tainted milk in China that caused children to become
sick was due to intentional adulteration.  That is, unscrupulous farmers
and milk producers deliberately contaminated their milk with melamine in
order to cheat on quality tests.  That situation is entirely different
from what we have found in the United States.  The Chinese milk that
made babies sick contained up to 10,000 times the amount of melamine
that has been found here in the US.

Out of an abundance of caution, we confirmed that no milk or milk
proteins that we use come from China. For extra safety precautions,
Abbott Nutrition conducted extensive testing of all our ingredients to
confirm no presence of melamine in the ingredients used to make our
infant formulas. There was no melamine detected in our powdered or
liquid formulas over the standard 1 part per million.

Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and
Applied Nutrition stated “[moms] should not be changing the diet. If
they’ve been feeding a particular product, they should continue to feed
that product.  That’s in the best interest of the baby.”

We are committed to meeting and exceeding your expectations for the
formula that helps your child grow strong and healthy.

Kind regards,

Consumer Relations
Abbott Nutrition

This letter doesn’t answer HOW Abbott is going to ensure no melamine will be found in their formula.  I don’t use formula, but I did not find this letter, nor the response from the FDA reassuring or informative at all.  It seems like a scramble to get some type of reassurance out to parents (whether it is true or not) and a case of CYA at best. 

Just because the FDA says an amount of a harmful and toxic chemical is “safe” it doesn’t mean it is good for you.  I could accidently swallow a “safe” amount of bleach, or gasoline.  It doesn’t mean that I won’t have any side affects, or that it won’t harm me.

Babies are the most vulnerable, and it does not seem logical that the FDA would be so quick to assure parents exposure to melamine won’t harm their babies.  I find it very interesting that the FDA accepted the levels of melamine found in the US formulas as the safe level.  Why not err on the side of caution and adapt the most stringent level of “safe” melamine, like Taiwan has done?

I posted in my last post, the contact information to the formula companies, and it may be worth it to contact your local Congress representatives, and your state’s attorney general.  In addition, if you wish to contact the FDA, here is their contact information:

FDA Comment (food section-you have to hit the link on this page in the second paragraph which says to leave a comment):