FDA Sets "Acceptable Levels" for Melamine in Food

The government sets an acceptable level for a chemical food contaminate showing up in Chinese-manufactured foods.

October 20, 2008

Add local, organic whole food to your diet, and dodge the dodgy ingredients in processed food.

RODALE NEWSROOM, EMMAUS, PA—The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Friday an “acceptable” level of the chemical melamine in most food and drinks, despite very few studies on melamine and human consumption. The agency concluded that levels of melamine and melamine-related compounds below 2.5 parts per million should not raise concerns for adults, though no levels are considered safe in baby formula. Some health-advocacy groups say the government isn’t doing enough, and urge a ban all Chinese dairy and dairy byproduct imports. “Instead of enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for this contaminant in food, FDA has instead set ‘acceptable’ levels for how much melamine food can contain, despite uncertainty about what levels of exposure are likely and limited information on the chemical’s human health effects.” says Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, a consumer rights nonprofit group.


THE DETAILS: The announcement came a week after the U.S. recalled Mr. Brown brand coffee and milk tea products imported from China, for fear they contained the plasticlike chemical that made more than 50,000 infants ill in China last month when it turned up in baby formula. Infant formula sold in the U.S. doesn’t contain any Chinese dairy products, according to the FDA. The chemical melamine is intentionally put into milk products and other foods to raise nitrogen levels, which gives the illusion there’s a higher protein content, according to Tony Corbo, a legislative representative for Food & Water Watch. “In essence, manufacturers were spiking food with a plastic,” he says. “It’s really called into question the integrity of the Chinese food safety system.” The FDA said it will continue to screen for contaminated food.

WHAT IT MEANS: Although the FDA says eating tiny amounts of melamine in your food everyday won’t hurt you, here are some ways to avoid eating the chemical in the first place:

Since there’s no way of knowing where the ingredients in processed food come from, buy as much food as you can from local producers. Buying local, organic whole food is the gold standard for anything you eat or drink.

• For processed food that you can’t avoid, contact the manufacturers and ask them if they use any ingredients that come from China. As seen with the recent food safety outbreak, products containing milk or milk products in them are more likely to be contaminated with melamine.

• Be particularly cautious about products from China. The country doesn’t have a very good track record when it comes to consumer safety—contaminated pet food killed thousands of American pets last year. There was also public outcry when toys from China were found to contain high levels of lead.

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