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FAQ: Melamine in U.S. Baby Formula

Questions and Answers About Trace Amounts of Melamine in U.S. Infant Formula
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Is U.S. baby formula safe? continued...

"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.

That's also the opinion of Marvin Wang, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and director of newborn nurseries at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children.

"These formulas have done remarkably well in terms of safety for all the years they've been on the market," Wang tells WebMD. "We have not seen reports of the kinds of symptoms you would see in melamine toxicity. ... Unless the infant formula manufacturers declare they recently made a change in the way they process the formula, or that they obtained milk products from China, there is no reason to think these infant formulas are any less safe than infant formulas that have been on the market for many years."

Scientists never say never. None of the experts who spoke with WebMD would guarantee that all U.S. infant formulas are safe for all babies. But every one of the experts says the evidence so far strongly indicates that U.S. infant formula is safe.

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