WHO Sets Melamine Contamination in Foods Standards

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Responding to mounting global concerns, the World Health Organization on Friday issued safety limits for levels of melamine in foods. The industrial chemical should not be present in baby formula, but trace levels are unavoidable in some foods, especially those consumed by adults, according to published reports.

Melamine has been blamed for sickening nearly 300,000 children in China and may have caused six deaths, Agence France-Presse reported.

Friday's action marks the first time the United Nations-affiliated agency has set safety limits for the chemical, which is used in the production of plastic products. WHO officials stressed, however, that melamine "should not be in food," even though traces are sometimes unavoidable, the news service said.

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Melamine can cause kidney stones if consumed in excessive levels; in severe cases, it can cause kidney failure. The chemical has been routinely mixed into Chinese milk and dairy products to boost protein content.

Jorgen Schlundt, the WHO director for food safety, said the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) threshold states that a 50 kilogram (110-pound) person could tolerate 10 milligrams of melamine a day. This is not a "safe" level, but rather the amount a human being can consume without higher health risks, Schlundt said, according to the Associated Press.

"The TDI is meant to help national authorities set safe limits in food for withdrawal purposes should melamine be detected as a result of intentional adulteration," added the WHO.

The melamine scandal has prompted many countries around the world, including the 27-nation European Union, to ban Chinese milk imports, AFP said. The United States has put in place an import alert that requires importers to prove that Chinese milk products are melamine-free.

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced an allowable threshold of 1 part per million of melamine in baby formula. The FDA had originally said that no levels of the chemical were acceptable.

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