Baby Formula Fears

Health officials in Canada say the melamine level found in infant formula is "safe."

Melamine is back in the news again. The chemical that poisoned 1,200 and killed six babies in China last year has now shown up in infant formula in Canada. Melamine, which is a toxic component in plastics, was used as a protein replacement in infant formula in China. The source of the Canadian melamine, however, has proven much trickier to track down.

Scientists tested 94 samples of formula and found trace amounts of melamine in 71 of them. Health Canada in Ottowa says they still do not know the source of the contaminant, although one chemist has a theory. Sheryl Tittlemier, a Ph.D. candidate at Carleton University in Ottawa, suspects the insecticide cyromazine, as melamine is a known breakdown product. Levels of the kidney-toxic melamine in the tested formula ranged from between 4 to 346 nanograms per gram, well below the national standard of 0.5 micrograms per gram. That means babies would be consuming about 1% of the maximum allowable amount, according to Tittlemier and colleagues.

Officials concerned about how melamine made its way into North America also tested the formula packaging and containers, which turned up negative. Scientists still are not entirely sure how melamine could move from farm fields to formula, but have suggested "that milk from cattle exposed to cyromazine may contain melamine."

That theory still does not explain how melamine wound up in samples of soy milk that Health Canada also tested. Last year, Stephen Sundlof of the U.S. Food and Drug Association assured the public that low levels of melamine, such as those found in the Canadian formula, are "safe" for infants.

Source: Contaminated formula story

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