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Safety

FDA On Melamine

Agency sets standard for the chemical in food products; some in Congress want a ban

by Britt E. Erickson
October 13, 2008 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 86, ISSUE 41

In the midst of a widening scandal involving melamine-contaminated milk products originating from China, FDA declared on Oct. 3 that food products with levels of the industrial chemical below 2.5 ppm pose little risk. The agency says it arrived at this threshold through a mix of hard data and scientific assumptions. But it says that no amount of melamine is acceptable in infant formula because there is too much uncertainty to "rule out any public health concern."

Setting a safety standard for melamine angered some members of Congress, who would rather see an outright ban on the toxic chemical in food. "By not insisting on a zero-tolerance policy with melamine, FDA is failing to protect consumers," Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair of the House subcommittee that oversees FDA's budget, said in a written statement.

Melamine first turned up last year in U.S. pet food, causing thousands of cats and dogs to die of kidney failure (C&EN, May 12, page 41). Now, melamine-tainted milk products have sickened thousands and killed at least four Chinese infants (C&EN, Sept. 29, page 18). In both incidents, the toxic nitrogen-rich chemical was intentionally added to products to boost the results of protein analyses and hide the fact that the products had been "watered" down.

FDA says it is ramping up efforts to screen food products and monitor reports of melamine contamination from foreign sources.

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