FDA Sets Acceptable Melamine Levels For Baby Formula

Mommy, I’m hungry, can I have more melamine? Sure thing, sweetie, because the FDA established that 1 part per million of melamine in baby formula is cool, as long as an additional chemical isn’t present.

Lab tests of the formula made by those responsible for making 90% of American infant formula found trace amounts of melamine. However, the levels were far less than what’s been found in China, responsible for killing 3 infants and sickening thousands.

FDA sets melamine standard for baby formula [AP] (Photo: DanCentury)

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  1. sleze69 says:

    Why on earth can’t it be 0?

    • Git Em SteveDave loves this guy->★ says:

      @sleze69: Apparently it is found in some packaging and also some of the cleaners for food equipment, so it’s something that most likely can’t be avoided without changing everything about how stuff is manufactured.

      • zentex says:

        @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy->★: as sleze69 asked…why can’t it be 0? Excuses aren’t valid.

        :rant
        Oh, it’s too expensive? Tough shit mr. factory man. Change your entire practice so it’s 0. Really you’ll pass? Let’s poison YOUR kid and see how you like it.
        :/rant

        Expense is not a valid reason to not do something when it comes to kids. They will have plenty of time to poison themselves when they grow up and discover all the wonderful drugs cut with rat poison and formaldehyde.

        • U-235 says:

          @zentex: I’m sure that there are already expensive baby food brands that could already boast that, but what about the cheap ones? They can’t afford the improvements because they can’t afford to increase the cost of their product.

        • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

          @zentex: It’s called the law of diminishing returns. How many people can really spare no expense if you’re going to wind up with baby forumla that costs several thousand dollars a gallon? SOMEONE has to pay that.

          Besides, how would you test for that? 1 ppm is too much in your opinion… how about 1 ppb? .001 ppb? How do you check each and every molecule? At those levels you’re probably more likely to contaminate it just by opening it outside of a level 5 clean room, or pouring it into a bottle that you can’t even clean yourself to those tolerances.

        • Git Em SteveDave loves this guy->★ says:

          @zentex: I didn’t say expense. It could actually cost more lives removing something from the mix.
          DDT is safe. People have actually eaten it. But it made the birds eggshells weak, so we stopped using it. The chemicals that replaced it killed many people b/c they were more poisonous and not as safe to handle/use. They also weren’t as good, so deaths from insect vectors rose.
          If you remove the cleaning products that are in use and are doing a good job, and replace them with ones that don’t contain one chemical, yes, you will remove that. But now you may have a situation where you don’t kill all the bacteria you did with the previous cleaner, and you get kids dropping left and right from E. Coli.

        • josephbloseph says:

          @zentex: The point is that nobody’s kid is getting poisoned at that level. Protecting your kids against safe levels of contaminants is as irrational as protecting them against vaccinations or the theory of evolution.

        • Anonymous says:

          @zentex: It can’t be zero because it is IMPOSSIBLE for a laboratory to conclude there is zero melamine. Labs have detection limits, i.e. they can say there is less than X amount of a substance, but they cannot say there is zero. They cannot create a device sensitive enough to say that there isn’t a single molecule of melamine in a sample; instead, they say there is less than 1 ppm.

    • crashfrog says:

      @sleze69: Because it doesn’t need to be 0, it wouldn’t be any safer if it were 0, there’s no test in the world sufficiently sensitive to establish literally zero concentration of melamine throughout the product, and at one part per million concentration it’s unlikely that there’s more than about two molecules in a given container of product.

      Trying to hold concentration at zero would make baby formula prohibitively expensive. I mean more expensive than inkjet printer ink, expensive. And quite frankly making baby food way more expensive is a whole lot worse for the health of babies than one part per million melamine in the formula, which even a baby’s kidneys can process perfectly fine.

    • Valhawk says:

      @sleze69: Because for all intensive purposes 1ppm is zero.

      To make it clear, in order to get one teaspoon of melamine you baby would have to consume 166,667 oz of baby food. Just to put that number in perspective, it’s about 13,889 cans of soda.

    • thisisasignin says:

      @sleze69:

      Then it would be “melamine free.”
      You know that stuff isnt cheap.

  2. Ihaveasmartpuppy says:

    *scratching head* Can’t they call the concoction what it really is – Chemical Milk Replacement? Artificial Milk Replacement? Baby Fast Food? Why not add more chemical to it, then they can call it New & Improved! And I’m sure it was done because the customers have requested it.

  3. josephbloseph says:

    Good, not too many replies yet; maybe the knee-jerk reaction can be quelled before it starts. Here is the scoop: Everything you eat or drink has some level of contaminant. The FDA has to set nonzero thresholds for numerous contaminants because most foods would be deemed unsafe otherwise. Whether it is melamine in your milk or E. coli on your meat, it’s always going to be *something*.

    • Git Em SteveDave loves this guy->★ says:

      @josephbloseph: agreed. Of course, you’ll get people who will say, “But organic is safe!”. Then you ask about the bacteria and viruses that live in soil naturally, and are present on the “natural” food.

      • dialing_wand says:

        @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy->★:

        Some fun bits from the US FDA/CFSAN Food Defect Action Levels Handbook:
        ([www.cfsan.fda.gov])

        ALLSPICE, GROUND

        Insect Filth
        (AOAC 981.21)
        Average of 30 or more insect fragments per 10 grams

        Rodent filth
        (AOAC 981.21)
        Average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 10 grams

        DEFECT SOURCE: Insect fragments – pre/post harvest and processing insect infestation. Rodent hair – post harvest and/or processing contamination with animal hair or excreta

        SIGNIFICANCE: Aesthetic

        —-

        ASPARAGUS, CANNED OR FROZEN

        Insect filth
        (MPM-V93)
        10% by count of spears or pieces are infested with 6 or more attached asparagus beetle eggs and/or sacs

        Insects
        (MPM-V93)
        Asparagus contains an average of 40 or more thrips per 100 grams
        OR Insects (whole or equivalent) of 3mm or longer have an average aggregate length of 7mm or longer per 100 grams of asparagus

        DEFECT SOURCE: Pre-harvest insect infestation
        SIGNIFICANCE: Aesthetic

        —-

        And that’s only a couple from the “A”s,

    • Raekwon says:

      @josephbloseph: Judging by the majority of the current comments people still don’t understand this >.>

      Everything has some sort of contaminant 1ppm is a minuscule amount.

      • oneandone says:

        @Raekwon: 1 ppm is quite small – though I don’t know much about melamine. If it accumulates or has chronic effects, I’d be more reassured with 1 ppb.

      • RedmondDesomma says:

        @Raekwon: 1ppm is not the holy grail of “it’s a trace amount, we must be safe”. Contaminants like Aflatoxin get an allowable maximum of 20ppb.

  4. chrisjames says:

    What is “an additional chemical?” Only cyanuric acid correct? It’s important to note that the combination of these two specific chemicals is what supposedly poisoned the Chinese kids.

    Also, it’s good to know that while both are relatively harmless by themselves, both can end up in food products through manufacturing processes and plain ole’ leeching. I’m guessing in far less than 1 ppm, though.

  5. Fuzz says:

    I agree, there should be a safe level set. That level is ZERO. Was that so hard?

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      @Fuzz: Oh but that would cost so much MONEY because they’d have to actually use REAL FOOD. And we all know that real food is EXPENSIVE. We just can’t afford that extra 1cent per product. No no no.

    • zentex says:

      @Fuzz: greed

      • VioletPheonix says:

        @zentex: It is not a matter of greed, it is a matter of economics. When my children were younger and I was struggling the weekly canned formula bills were amazingly high. Changing everything over a miniscule amount like this *will* rase costs. The families like mine where everyone was at work making formula the only option for children would be at an even grater disadvantage.

        1ppm? You eat more aphids in your spaghetti sauce.

    • Valhawk says:

      @Oranges w/ Cheese: No, it wouldn’t cost a cent, it would probably double the cost of production. Do you know how little 1 ppm is? On average your getting maybe a molecule of melamine per serving. The cost to remove that single molecule will be absolutely prohibitive for next to no result.

      Basically you draw significantly more crap into your body every time you breath than you would get from baby food with this standard.

    • unpolloloco says:

      @Fuzz:
      1) there is no way to ensure 0 content of anything.
      2) to get something down under 1ppm is insanely expensive. If the level were set at 1 ppt, formula would probably cost $1000/serving

  6. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    I swear to GOD, that when I was in Middle School we had ice cream sandwiches ( I think they were blue bell brand ) that clearly said they were “Artificial Vanilla Flavored Melamine Product” instead of “Ice Cream”

    I swear it said Melamine. I remember thinking, “Are we eating plastic? O_O”

  7. DoubleEcho says:

    Does anyone else see the article picture as Baby Meatloaf in a dress?

  8. Red_Eye says:

    Look our Chinese overlords demanded we take their tainted milk product. Now they just have to thin it out a bit more rather than waste all of it.

  9. Pinget says:

    Hopefully this will inspire more moms to breastfeed.

    • Fujikopez says:

      @Pinget: Exactly. This is why I do anything in my power to breastfeed. (20 months and counting!)

    • MsAnon says:

      @Pinget: Not that human breastmilk isn’t already contaminated with things like pthalates, etc. We walk around in an environmental stew from Day One and some of that stuff just doesn’t go away from the body.

    • Veeber says:

      @Pinget: And you’re making the assumption that all women who don’t are choosing not to? My wife tried for over a month to try to get our baby to latch and feed. She ended up loosing weight and our only choice was formula.

      • neega says:

        @Veeber: I doubt that’s the assumption. However, some women don’t breastfeed cause it’s inconvenient for them, or they’re embarrassed to breastfeed in public (see the comments on the Consumerist article on the BF mom told to stop at BRU and you’ll get a sense why). And some women believe it’s just as good as breastmilk — it isn’t, it’s just an acceptable substitute when problems arise, like they did for your wife.

      • Triterion says:

        @Veeber: She should have seen a lactation specialist, there’s a lot more to it than you think.

        • Anonymous says:

          @Triterion: Assuming that veeber’s wife didn’t see a lacation consult is highly naive. Some women truly have milk production problems. I know, because I did. And, after working closely with several lacation consultants ended up taking medication to BF and still didn’t quite make enough, so my son was always supplemented somewhat. Back in the day there were milk nurses, but now the option is formula. I know another mom who had major surgery right after birth. She couldn’t BF for a month and then had to take medication to induce it — what did baby drink in the meantime? Formula. As you said there is a lot more to you than you think and by no means does that indicate that every woman will be successful despite trying!

  10. darkryd says:

    The level should be a flat “O”.

    This is baby formula, not cabinet varnish. Melamine Levels should be non-existent.

    • Git Em SteveDave loves this guy->★ says:

      @darkryd: I hope you don’t have plastic countertops, laminate cabinets,have ever used a “Mr. Clean Magic Eraser”, glue, or have anything printed with a yellow ink in your home. B/c if you do, you have melamine! And anything that touches any of those surface has it on it!

      • oneandone says:

        @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy->★: So true. And unless you eat it, it’s not nearly as bad for you as a lot of the more volatile household chemicals. Flame retardants, plastic softeners, polishes, dyes, tanning agents for anything leather….. most people are probably breathing all that in right now. Harmful? Probably. Harmful enough that we should completely remove them from the marketplace? Not all of them (though some of them, definitely. Deca-BDE – I’m looking at you!).

        It’s a cost-benefit assessment – do I want toxic flame retardent chemicals on my carpet, or do I want a carpet that could catch on fire? Unfortunately, the choice is usually not the consumer’s. We could do with a little more clarity about what materials are used in our food & products, so consumers can make their own choices about risks.

    • Valhawk says:

      @darkryd: Does your baby eat around 5 cubic meters of baby food? If not, your not even getting a teaspoon.

      In reality with the 1ppm amount, you’ll be on average getting around 1 molecule of melamine. This is in place becuase while its not impossible to make it 0ppm its just insanely expensive. So unless your willing to pay 2-3(or more likely even more) times the current cost for baby food, your just going to have to live with it.

  11. Anonymous says:

    @Pinget – just so you know not every mom who uses formula went for it as a first choice.

    I, for one, tried and tried to breast feed but the darn things wouldn’t work right (seriously – my nipples wouldn’t come out) and my son ended up seriously dehydrated and back in the hospital before my pediatrician could convince me to use formula. It broke my heart when we had to switch (it also is destroying our household budget).

    Many other moms would also prefer to breast feed but can’t for a variety of reasons. Don’t assume that just because a mom uses formula that she CHOSE to use formula. It’s not any easier than breastfeeding, it costs a lot more, and it takes longer to prepare which is an issue when your baby is crying for food.

    For those of us who MUST use formula, we’d be a lot happier knowing that it’s safe for our precious babies.

  12. LintySoul says:

    Just to be safe, I started putting our dinners in the autoclave before serving. My tissue box shoes don’t protect me from much, but it makes a statement, it lets my neighbors know that I’m concerned about food safety.

  13. WarOtter - I went to Japan and all I got was this tumor. says:

    Why does that baby in the pic look like some evil cross of George W and Ross Perot? And dear god why is it squeezing a hamster!?!?!?

  14. Anonymous says:

    Melamine is TOXIC in ANY amount and also accumulates in the body… an infant drinking 1ppm (of melamine) as exclusive nourishment in the first year of life adds up significantly… I, too, hope this encourages more women to breastfeed.

    Melamine is described as being “Harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Chronic exposure may cause cancer or reproductive damage. Eye, skin and respiratory irritant.” However, the toxic dose is on a par with common table salt with an LD50 of more than 3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. FDA scientists explained that when melamine and cyanuric acid are absorbed into the bloodstream, they concentrate and interact in the urine-filled renal microtubules, then crystallize and form large numbers of round, yellow crystals, which in turn block and damage the renal cells that line the tubes, causing the kidneys to malfunction.

    • crashfrog says:

      @VailOggie: Melamine is TOXIC in ANY amount and also accumulates in the body..

      No, it doesn’t. Since it’s soluble in water, it leaves the body in urine.

      At one ppm we’re talking about, likely, one molecule of melamine per two or three servings of formula. And remember this is at the maximum allowable concentration. In all likelihood production concentrations will be much, much less.

    • VioletPheonix says:

      @VailOggie: I think that the part we are

      • VioletPheonix says:

        @VioletPheonix: Huh, sent early. Like I was saying, the part that we are all forgetting is the fact that many, if not MOST of us were bottle fed, and the same with our parents as well. When formula first came out many women rushed to embrace it as a way of ‘freeing’ themselves. And I garantee that the stuff in it was worse back then, including the Melamine amount.

        You are fine, your parents are fine, and your kids are also fine.

  15. mannyv says:

    FDA: no level is safe.

    FDA: our bad, a little bit is OK

    I’m sure there’s a lot of scientific justification for setting that 1ppm. In fact, here’s what the article said:

    “Dr. Stephen Sundlof, the FDA’s director of food safety, said Friday the agency was confident in the 1 part per million level for either of the chemicals alone, even though there have been no new scientific studies since October that would give regulators more safety data. He had no ready explanation for why the level was not set earlier.”

    So…let’s pull a number out of our butts and call it safe. There is no scientific justification for his statements. Does he have data?

  16. neega says:

    The actual level of melamine allowed isn’t the problem here. Yea, I get it, 1ppm is tiny. My issue is that the FDA wasn’t willing to discuss a safe level when the whole hubbub started in China — they were just happy to say “Buy American!” Now we find out FDA tested hundreds of products at the time and found the chemical, albeit in smaller quantities, but didn’t tell the public about their findings. Now when the public does find out about it, FDA says, “it’s okay, we’ve established a safe level.” Once again, the FDA shows it’s job is to protect American companies, not American consumers, baby or otherwise.

  17. Valhawk says:

    Its good to see the kneejerkers who know nothing about the facts are still lurking here at the Consumerist.

    1ppm is an absolutely minuscule amount. Its roughly equivalent to maybe 1 molecule per serving. So this is not a big deal. You take in more crap from a glass of tap water than you will be getting from this.

    • mannyv says:

      @Valhawk:

      If 1 ppm is absolutely miniscule, why didn’t they pick 5 ppm? It’s 5 times less miniscule, and supported by the same amount of data as the new 1 ppm standard.

      Or heck, why not go to 100 ppm? 1000 ppm?

      The fact is, nobody knows how much is safe or not, just that too much is bad.

      1 ppm of mercury is the maximum allowable concentration for seafood, so 1 PPM of something is not as insignificant as you make it out to be.

      • Valhawk says:

        @mannyv: Probably because they were aiming for the smallest reasonable non-zero number they could find. This way it allows for companies to not have to go through the incredibly expensive process of ensuring that not even 1 molecule of melamine gets into their product, and simply try to keep it to the minimum amount possible without being unreasonable.

  18. SWBLOOPERS says:

    If this kind of thing turns your stomach, better not look into what the FDA considers acceptable level of contaminants for things like orange juice, hot dogs, or “meat product.”

  19. concordia says:

    When you’re done giving them melamine, load your kids up with mercury. Don’t you know Mercury is good for you?

  20. rafe1230 says:

    Oh the irony of the FDA. They are legalized criminals who should be put in jail. Melamine is considered a poison by the DOT when shipped, with a designation “Packing Group III”. Under the old DOT regs, what is now PG III used to be called “Keep Away From Foodstuffs”. I love it.

    • josephbloseph says:

      @rafe1230: There is a difference between shipping quantities of melamine with food, and having an unavoidable, relatively harmless trace of melamine in food as a result of mass production and packaging.

  21. youbastid says:

    And wasn’t melamine only added to the stuff because it falsely jacked up the protein levels to make the product look more nutritious? Dangers aside, shouldn’t it be illegal for use in baby formula just for that reason?

    • josephbloseph says:

      @youbastid: RTFA, this isn’t about adding melamine to anything. From the FDA website as linked at the bottom of the article:
      Melamine is not naturally occurring and is not approved to be directly added to food in the United States. However, melamine is approved for use as part of certain food contact substances. Low levels of melamine are present in the environment and trace amounts may occur in certain food commodities as a result of approved uses.

      It would be like saying that I add Dial handsoap to any food I cook after washing my hands.

  22. thatgirlinnewyork says:

    the fda and the usda have been consistent in their denial/deflection attitude about the safety of u.s.-made consumer products and foodstuffs–contamination and toxicity are only bad when the chinese are manufacturing it; otherwise, we will dictate “allowable amounts”. see earlier rulings on rat droppings, pesticides, hormones and other “negligable amounts” of undesirable particulate. their oversight is reactionary at best.

  23. synergy says:

    I don’t remember where I read it, but it may have been an AP report… the level set by the FDA for imports is higher than that set for domestic manufacture. Health issues aside, if I were a U.S. company I’d be pissed that, essentially, companies outside the U.S. are obviously being allowed to use more of cheaper products than I am.

  24. ageshin says:

    Somehow I think that by setting a limit on melamine the FDA is admitting that it is really powerless and has no ability to govern what goes into our food.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Just like the safe levels of mercury and arsenic aren’t zero, sometime a zero is impossible or too expensive to produce. 1 part per million kids let’s all settle down.