Melamine: the latest, greatest environmental health scare. If this isn't exactly a household name for you, read our handy Q and A below.
Q. What's melamine? A. Melamine is a synthetic chemical that is used to make plastic resin coatings. Melamine made headlines last year due to tainted cat and dog food, and this year with tainted Chinese baby formula. Both of these food contaminations were unfortunately, intentionally done to give the products higher protein levels before being approved for market. Today, melamine again made news. The FDA has an ongoing investigation on melamine and discovered a minute (really, really small) amount of melamine in one U.S. baby formula sample and a few samples of U.S. nutritional products made by baby formula manufacturers. The FDA is using new technology which is extremely sensitive at detecting low levels of melamine. They believe the trace amounts of melamine are due to the processing of these products.
Q. What happened to the babies who ate the tainted Chinese formula? A. Significant amounts of melamine ingestion over a period of time can lead to kidney stones, kidney failure, and even death. In China, about 52,000 children became ill, 12,000 were hospitalized, and several children died due to the tainted formula.
Q. Is there any risk of melamine exposure in the U.S.? A.The Food and Drug Administration currently says that exposures of less than 2.5 ppm (parts per million) have no serious health risks. The caveat: even they cannot determine a "safe" level for infant formula. The Chinese formula that caused problems, by the way, had about 520 ppm.
Q Is U.S. baby formula safe? Should I be freaking out? A. Yes, it's safe. No, you shouldn't freak out. And, we are glad the FDA is remaining vigilant about their investigation. We'd still encourage you to breastfeed anyway. But, U.S. made infant formula is the alternative we would recommend if you are supplementing or not breastfeeding.
Q. What should I look for if I am worried about my baby having melamine poisoning? A. Crying with urination, blood in the urine, fluid retention (edema)
Q. Where can I get more info on melamine exposure? A. Go to the FDA's website for another nice Q&A: http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/melamine_qa.html
Q. Where can I get more info on melamine and kidney disease? A. Check out the American Society of Pediatric Nephrology website: http://www.aspneph.com/newsevents.asp