U.S. finds trace of melamine in baby formula

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. health officials have found trace amounts of the chemical melamine in one sample of infant formula sold in the United States, a Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

“There’s no basis for concern because we’re talking about trace levels that are so low … that there’s absolutely no risk,” FDA spokeswoman Judy Leon said.

Melamine-tainted formula was found earlier this year in China, where thousands of children fell ill and several died. In September, the FDA sought to assure parents and said there was no similar contamination threat in the United States.

The chemical, normally used to make plastics, has been found in milk power, wheat gluten and other Chinese-made ingredients used in a products ranging from pet food to candy.

Melamine’s ability to make foods appear to have higher amounts of protein during testing has made it a cheap but dangerous substitute that can damage the kidneys.

Leon said that was not the case with the U.S. infant formula, which in September was determined not to be made with any Chinese ingredients.

The new results “are most likely a result of the manufacturing process or what comes into contact with formula in cans. It’s not adulteration and it’s not contamination,” she said.

Leon declined to name the manufacturer of the sample found to contain melamine. U.S.-approved makers include Abbott Nutrition, Bristol-Myers Squibb unit MeadJohnson Nutritionals and Nestle USA.

Representatives from the individual companies were not immediately available for comment, but industry trade group the International Formula Council sought to reassure consumers.

“Infant formula manufactured in the United States remains safe and nutritious,” it said in a statement. “U.S. infant formula products meet the highest standards and specifications.”

NEW TESTS

The FDA has been expanding tests for melamine in all food products, including infant formula, Leon said. The formula finding came from relatively new, more sensitive tests the agency has deployed in recent weeks.

FDA scientists conducted two tests of the formula sample, one finding a melamine level of 137 parts per billion (ppb) and another measuring 140 ppb. A level of 250 ppb or less is considered a trace amount, Leon said.

Some consumer advocates said it was premature to say there was no risk for infants.

The FDA’s earlier determination that 250 ppb of melamine was a trace amount was intended for foods other than infant formula, said Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group.  Continued…

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