July 7th, 2010
02:25 PM ET

UN body sets global maximum melamine levels in food

Health officials from around the world have agreed to a maximum safe amount of melamine for human and animal food.

Melamine is used to make a variety of products including plastic dishes and laminates and linings of food cans.

Representatives from 130 countries agreed to the following maximum levels:  1 milligram of melamine per kilogram in powdered infant formula, (which equals 0.000035 ounces per 2.2 pounds) and 2.5 milligrams of melamine per kilogram in other foods and animal feed (0.000088 ounces per 2.2 pounds).

Two years ago, Chinese manufacturers added melamine to powdered infant formula as a cheap filler.  “It looks like protein but it is not protein and it's actually dangerous when you have it in high concentrations,”  Jørgen Schlundt, the WHO Director of Food Safety and Zoonoses department explained on Tuesday.  Zoonoses are diseases communicable from animals to humans.

More than 300,000 children got sick and at least six children died from contaminated baby formula, according to the World Health Organization.

Since then, the United Nation’s food safety body called Codex Alimentarius Commission has been working on setting global standards for melamine levels in food.

Dr. Angelika Tritscher from the WHO’s Food Safety and Zoonoses department says this is "probably the quickest [safety] standard established in codex history."

Tritscher says  the purpose of these standards is to make sure foods with unavoidable trace amounts of melamine can still be marketed.  But she tells CNN, “to cheat the consumer by adding melamine is totally unacceptable.  By no means is there an indication to tolerate any adulteration or illegal addition of melamine to any food or feed.”

One possible unavoidable way to get trace amounts of melamine into food is from using an approved pesticide called cyromazine, which can break down into melamine.

Another way melamine can accidentally get into food is when it comes in contact with hard plastic dishes or melamine containing tabletops, Tritscher explains.  She say that very small amounts of melamine can be released.  But adds that these low levels of melamine in food are “definitely not a health concern.”

Last November, China executed two people for their role in the 2008 tainted baby formula scandal.  19 people were sentenced to prison.

Still, melamine tainted infant formula was found again earlier this year.  Chinese officials reportedly seized 72 tons of melamine-laced milk powder in February.

According to the WHO, these new rules for melamine concentrations are not legally binding, but countries can use them to deny the importation of food products containing too much melamine.

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Safety is Key

    I feel sorry for the people living in China who have no choice but to take their chances that their baby's formula might be adulterated with this junk. Evidence of how people will sell their souls for a profit! How much is making its way into the formula, etc. sold in other countries? Sick!

    July 7, 2010 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jack Stonefield

    I don't get why parents trust corporations to feed their babies?! As a parent I can tell you there is more than one type of acceptable toxin circulating through the so-called 'baby foods' they sell at the store. Most of it's junk food. You might as well push Doritos and Mountain Dew on kids...oh wait, they do that too. If you're a new parent, you should make your own food. Look it up, its easier than you think. Articles like this can help:

    July 7, 2010 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jude Michael

    What are we doing to ourselves? A cheqp filler for baby food? This is insane. I really don't understand why people can care so little for health in order to make money. Is it really worth it? Why are we putting up with this? I read an article that highlights the food system in America. Check it out.

    July 8, 2010 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Shiv Chopra

    Regulator authorities are going mad on food safety. WHO has quite arbitrarily set standards for the daily intake of melamine (plastic) which should not be in any food in the first place. Recently, Canada set a daily intake standard for food-borne hormones which are known to cause cancer. Daily intake standard means one will be consuming the product in question for whole life while knowing that cancer takes many years to develop. What are the regulators for: public safety or boost the merchants of food-borne poisons? CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta should investigate it.

    Shiv Chopra, Scientist/Author
    CORRUPT TO THE CORE: Memoirs of a Health canada Whistleblower

    July 8, 2010 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Corin S.

    After purchasing a favorite brand of lip color, I saw on the package that it was now being manufactured in China! Needless to say, I will not be purchasing ANY cosmetics from that particular company ever again. I do not trust what manufacturers in the USA are doing to our personal products, be it lipstick or baby formula, or to the food supply (just watch the movie "Food, Inc." or read the book "The Omnivore's Dilemma"). My family lives near southern Wisconsin and we now visit farms and order our meat products, cheese, and vegetables directly from local farmers who use "clean food" and organic farming practices. It may cost a bit more, but we have cut down on waste and portion size for health reasons and know that the food we are getting is the healthiest, most nutritious food available. We are also proud to support our local farmers and have found new products such as Piedmontese beef and bison that are healthier alternatives to supermarket meat products. Additionally, our 6 year old son is learning about farming and enjoys our food gathering adventures to local farms, dairies, and farmer's markets. If you watch and read the aforementioned items, you will NEVER purchase meat in a supermarket again because you will learn about how meat is produced -- to create healthy profits for large corporations -- while sacrifcing humane treatment of animals and producing the most unhealthy food for the public. I did not always feel this way, but believe me, open your eyes to the facts about farming and the complicit nature of the USDA and your feelings will change too!

    August 9, 2010 at 18:12 | Report abuse | Reply

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