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FAQ: Melamine in U.S. Baby Formula

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

Is U.S. baby formula safe? continued...

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.

"I'm sorry I can't be more specific, and can't guarantee safety at 0.14 parts per million," Casavant says. "The trouble is we really don't have a lot of experience and data with this poison in infant formula. People smarter than I are guessing at safe levels, and I'm only able to report their guesses. But I do think they're guessing right. I don't think 0.14 parts per million in formula is going to turn out to be a problem."

One potential problem would be if both melamine and cyanuric acid are present in formula, says melamine expert Mengshi Lin, PhD, assistant professor of food science at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

"One part per million is a very low level of melamine -- if no other chemical is included," Lin tells WebMD. "But if you have 1 part per million of melamine and 1 part per million of cyanuric acid, that is a big problem. The two chemicals react to form crystals, and that can be a big risk, especially for infants."

If I feed my child formula, will melamine build up in his or her body?

Wasserman notes that the body gets rid of melamine in three to four hours, so it's very unlikely that tiny amounts will build up in a child's system.

"The human body is an amazing organ that has hundreds of mechanisms to protect itself from toxins," Wasserman tells WebMD. "We are bombarded every day by lots of chemicals we don't know about, and our bodies just handle them."

That's true, agrees Ingolf Gruen, PhD, associate professor of food science at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

"Our ability to analyze foods for specific chemicals is improving all the time," Gruen tells WebMD. "Of course, when you have infants and baby formula, I fully understand when moms say I want zero toxins. But in all honesty, I don't think that is a reasonable expectation. Even if you grow your own squash and carrots and process it into homemade baby food, don't fool yourself into thinking it is contaminant free. It probably picked up traces of something along the way."

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