This past Friday, FDA officials stated that less than 1 part per million of the industrial chemical melamine found in infant baby formula is safe. This announcement came after trace amounts of the industrial chemical were found in U.S. formula, and it came two months after 50,000 infants were sickened in China from large amounts of it being put directly into milk.
The FDA had previously not set a safety limit.
Doing so now, with no recent research to back this conclusion, makes no sense.
While I don't think the amounts found in the U.S. should be sufficient to scare mothers away from formula (esp. those who aren't able to breast feed), I am very concerned about the FDA's continued inability to properly police our food. Also, the precedent of allowing ANY amount of this chemical to reside in our food is wrong.
- What is melamine? Melamine is a white powder used in plastic-making. It was first synthesized by a German scientist in the 1830s. Its most common form is melamine resine, a mix with formaldehyde, where it used in the manufacture of formica, floor tiles, whiteboards, and kitchenware. Adding melmine to watered-down milk makes its protein level appear higher because it is high in nitrogen. Criminal merchants use this process to fool inspectors.
- Why the concern? Melamine can be harmful. Since it was discovered in infant formula in September in Asia, more than 50,000 infants have been sickened and 4 have died. It has been tested in animals in small amounts and found not to be toxic. But in high amounts it can be toxic to the kidneys and urinary tract, causing stones and blocking ducts, manifesting with bloody urine, especially when it mixes with another cheaper chemical, cyanuric acid. Cyanuric acid (a chemical stabilizer in swimming pools) is also used to falsely raise protein content in milk and infant formula, to make them look protein rich.
- Should parents be alarmed? Parents should always be cautious, but the chances of currently available formula causing a problem in your infants is very low.
- What should the FDA do? The melamine problem is a wake-up call to the FDA to set more precise standards and to back them up with increased regulation of products, esp. those coming into the U.S. from other countries. With our current economic troubles, it would be nice to see domestic production favored, especially when the chances of a toxic chemical originating here and going undetected is far less likely. The melamine-contaminated infant formula now found in the U.S. likely originates from a powdered milk ingredient from Asia.
- Is the FDA effective? Keep in mind that there is no real purpose whatsoever to have melamine in food except to fool inspectors. The FDA has been inconsistent and ineffective on melamine risk. The agency needs more teeth - more regulatory power and a larger staff to implement it.
Dr. Marc Siegel is an internist and associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine. He is a FOX News Medical Contributor and writes a health column for LA Times, where he examines TV and movies for medical accuracy. Dr. Siegel is the author of "False Alarm: the Truth About the Epidemic of Fear" and "Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic". Read more at www.doctorsiegel.com
Marc Siegel MD is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center. He is a medical analyst and reporter for Fox News since 2008. His upcoming book concerns a mysterious viral outbreak.