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FAQ: Melamine in U.S. Baby Formula

Questions and Answers About Trace Amounts of Melamine in U.S. Infant Formula

Which brands of U.S. baby formula contain melamine?

According to the Associated Press, FDA tests detected trace amounts of melamine in Mead Johnson's Infant Formula Powder, Enfamil LIPIL with Iron.

Melamine levels in the product were very low: about 0.14 parts per million. The deliberately contaminated baby formula in China contained over 250 parts per million of melamine -- at least two thousand times higher than the U.S. contamination.

The AP report also said the FDA detected cyanuric acid in tests of Nestle's Good Start Supreme Infant Formula with Iron, at about 0.25 parts per million -- again, some thousand-fold less than in Chinese formula.

In addition, the AP report said that while the FDA tests came up negative, Similac maker Abbott Laboratories said some company tests did find traces of melamine, at concentrations below 0.05 parts per million.

These three manufacturers -- Mead Johnson, Nestle, and Abbott -- make more than 90% of the baby formula sold in the U.S.

Is U.S. baby formula safe?

Nobody knows for sure -- but several experts tell WebMD they think U.S. baby formula is safe, despite containing trace amounts of melamine.

All melamine and melamine-related contaminants detected in baby formula have been well below the 1 part per million level deemed safe by the FDA in its Nov. 28 update to its risk assessment of melamine and melamine analogs.

Here's the opinion of Marcel Casavant, MD, chief of clinical pharmacology/toxicology at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, medical director of The Central Ohio Poison Center, and director of the Central Ohio Lead Clinic.

"We don't really know for sure how much melamine is safe," Casavant tells WebMD. "We do know how much is bad. It's really the dose that makes something a poison or not. Concentrations of more than 250 parts per million cause big troubles for some babies. How low does the concentration have to be to cause no problems for any babies? That's what we don't know for certain."

Casavant notes that the FDA finds melamine concentrations up to 2.5 parts per million to be safe in products used to feed sick children in the hospital. Health Canada says a level of 1.0 part per million is safe in infant formula and 2.5 parts per million is safe in other foods and beverages.

"They based this on finding the lowest concentration to cause problems in animals, and then divide by 100," Casavant says. "It's just a guess, but it's the way these guesses are usually made."

Gary Wasserman, DO, chief of medical toxicology at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo., says trace levels of melamine and other chemicals have probably been present in infant formula for decades. We find it now because we've just started to test for it.

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