Recent tests in the U.S. have revealed the presence of trace amounts of the industrial chemical melamine, approximately 1 part per million, in infant formula made by three U.S. manufacturers-Abbott Laboratories, Nestle and Mead Johnson. In September some of China's milk supply was discovered to have dangerously high levels of the chemical, 2,500 parts per million, which led to at least six infant deaths and sicken a minimum of 50,000 more babies.
Melamine falsely indicates high protein content during food testing. It had been intentionally added to watered down milk in China in order to hide the fact that the product had been compromised. The trace amounts in the U.S. are too low to have any effect on protein testing. Melamine is used in packing materials and some cleaners. Industry experts claim that this is the source of the chemical found in the formula. However, on Friday the World Health Organization met in Ottawa, Canada to discuss the presence of melamine in food and noted that there was no reason for any melamine to be present in infant formula.
On October 3rd the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated, "FDA is currently unable to establish any level of melamine and melamine-related compounds in infant formula that does not raise public health concerns." This statement was widely interpreted as meaning that no level of melamine was safe. However, last month the FDA announced that they were setting a new limit for melamine in foods at 0.63 milligrams. Later it dramatically reduced that amount to 0.063 milligrams.
When questioned about the disparity between the original no tolerance level and the new limits, FDA scientists explained that they had never meant to say that no melamine could be tolerated. Instead they had simply meant that they did not have enough data on October 3rd to set an accurate limit. No credible data has been generated since then about the impact of melamine on infants, but the FDA was mysteriously able to produce a number. The timing closely coincided with the discovery of melamine in U.S. products.
While we analyze and track the work of future Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in keeping our nation safe, we also have to monitor a growing national threat that neither are charged with overseeing-food security. Poisons in the form of pesticides and chemical additives are constantly crossing our border and wreaking havoc on our bodies. And, of course, our own companies are guilty of the same negligence or outright fraudulence.
On November 27th the European Food Safety Authority recommended lower Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) for a number of food products. The MRL pertains to the amount of chemicals, usually pesticides, that can be found on food that will be sold in the European Union. The MRL standards are the same for food grown within the E.U. and global imports.
The lower MRLs are great news for the people of the E.U., and a potential health crisis for the U.S. if it doesn't follow their example by lowering our acceptable pesticide limits. Were our limits to remain at current levels, we would become a dumping ground for toxic food that countries can't sell to the EU. While this may translate into cheaper food in the short term, the costs to our health would become costly in the long-term.
As we contemplate the possibility of a national health care system we need to accurately assess the risk factors that contribute to disease and ultimately lead to a costlier insurance program. This is a good time to invest in long-term savings by embracing the prevention model. Instead of assuming unnecessary debt by allowing the FDA to continue to function as the lapdog to big business, we need to start making some financially prudent choices by investing in the welfare of our citizens. Including infants.