China announces new melamine guidelines

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Milk Food safety

China is taking steps to reassure countries that are banning its imports following the melamine crisis with the introduction of new safety levels for food and drink.

The Chinese government has announced the first rules for allowable levels of melamine, according to reports, after the contamination of milk powder was linked to the death of four babies and 54,000 children falling ill.

Melamine, an industrial chemical, was recently found in infant formula in China but it has since spiraled to other food categories that use milk powder as an ingredient, such as chocolate and biscuits.

According to Associated Press, melamine limits considered safe have now been set by Chinese authorities at one part per million for infant formula and 2.5 parts per million for liquid milk, milk powder and food products that contain more than 15 percent milk.

Wang Xuening, a Health Ministry official, said any items containing higher levels will be "prohibited from sale."

Levels of melamine discovered in batches of milk powder in China recently registered 6,196 parts per million.

It is believed they were deliberately added to food to artificially inflate the appearance of protein, with potential health consequences.

The minister acknowledged that small amounts of melamine can leak from the environment and packaging into milk and other products, but said that adding it deliberately was forbidden.

Wang Xuening, who is quoted by the Associated Press, added: "Melamine cannot be used as an ingredient or additive in food products.

"For those who add melamine into food products, their legal responsibility will be investigated."

Products withdrawn

The ramifications of the melamine contamination incident continue to reverberate beyond China.

Last week Lotte Koala biscuits were withdrawn from sale in Europe due to raised levels of melamine, after tests in the Netherlands found them to contain 4.98mg per kilogram, almost twice as much as the EU’s 2.5mg limit.

This prompted the UK government to also recall the biscuits, which had been distributed to Chinese supermarkets and other independent retailers across the country.

Meanwhile, the Dutch Food Safety Authority (VWA) released a statement which stressed that the chances of becoming ill from consuming the biscuits were very slim.

“Only with daily consumption of two kilograms of the biscuits will children enter the danger zone,” it said.

This conclusion is based on a theoretical study conducted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to test the EU’s established tolerated daily intake level of melamine. EFSA released its results last week stating that in its opinion it is safe to consume up to 0.5mg of melamine per kilogram of bodyweight daily.

Leading chocolate manufacturer Cadbury also said last week that, as a precautionary measure, it had recalled 11 Chinese-made products from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia.

And this week the UK's Food Standards Agency announced that certain batches of White Rabbit products from China containing up to 60 times the melamine limit were found on UK shop shelves and had been recalled.

Safe limits

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration has carried out a scientific safety and risk assessment of the chemical.

The interim findings were that food products other than infant formula which contain less than 2.5 parts per million (ppm) of the industrial chemical do not pose safety risks for consumers.

However, the FDA claimed that establishing a limit on the chemical’s presence in infant formula was currently impossible, owing to uncertainty over the specific impacts of melamine in an infant’s body.

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