What happened to Zero Tolerance?
November 25, 2008 10:23 PM   Subscribe

How concerned should I be about the recent revelations about melamine in US infant formula?

I came across this NY Times story about melamine in US infant formula. tonight. I read it to my wife.

We've got a five month old. Please tell me why we should NOT be freaked out by this news. Or alternatively, why we should be.

I tend not to be a conspiracy theorist and want to accept the FDA's explanation. But everybody makes mistakes. And I have visions of this story snowballing.

Any recommendations on US infant formula that does not have trace elements of melamine would be greatly appreciated (And yes, we're aware of breast milk).

My apologies to those who find this curreneventsfilter or chatfilter but this is an issue of some urgency in this household.
posted by cjets to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think that what's going on here is that after the Chinese scandals, the FDA has started doing a lot of testing for melamine here.

But they're using a very sensitive test, and they got a hit on a domestic product at a concentration level that didn't represent a health threat.

Actually, if anything, this should make you feel more comfortable. It means the FDA is looking hard for melamine contamination, and the only case of it they've found so far was at levels too low to be dangerous.
posted by Class Goat at 10:44 PM on November 25, 2008

Best answer: "Zero tolerance" only applies if, say, a 4th grader brings an aspirin to school or something. The machinations of the state are then vivid and encompassing.

But back the Melamine, my question would be "how 'trace' is 'trace'?" . There are trace amounts of many, many bad things in what we all consume, but the question arises of what proportion of actual danger is present. It's an uncomfortable question to consider when you and yours are doing the actual consuming. But if I were you, I wouldn't be too all-fired concerned at this point. The FDA's cutoff of 250 ppb melamine is 0.000025% which is pretty damn small and they also say that the only sample (out of 87) testing positive was below that. I would call the story overblown at this point.
posted by telstar at 10:47 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, you poor things. I feel your pain. I'm about to pop out BabyTaff in two weeks and have already bought formula (because I have a very low milk supply) which needs supplementing.

Based on your question... I just googled the formula company I had bought and melamine and got a very reassuring message....e.g. here. I suggest you do the same for your current formula and any others you may wish to change to.

That the article can't mention who has the problem doesn't mean the innocent won't loudly proclaim their "clean" status so as to get more of the infant formula market. Well, that's my take on it.

Best of luck with this one possum, I'll be watching to see what you decide to do.
posted by taff at 1:03 AM on November 26, 2008

Best answer: I think the answer is right in the article:

“There’s no cause for concern or no risk from these levels,” said Judy Leon, an agency spokeswoman. Ms. Leon said the contamination was most likely the result of food contact with something like a can liner, or from some other manufacturing problems, but not from deliberate adulteration.

Melamine is a common form of plastic. Plastic is everywhere. The buttons on your shirt right now, melamine. Your laminate countertops or the laminate top to your desk, yep, melamine. The fact that a tiny trace appeared in a container that is lined with a melamine film does not surprize me. What does surprize me is that this article appeared in the New York Times. I thought they were a less hyperbolic news outlet.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:55 AM on November 26, 2008

If I were a parent, I'd avoid infant formula. Don't forget that Dubya's FDA declared bisphenol A safe for kids, only to back down after a scientific panel charged the FDA with ignoring evidence. Play it safe, if you can.
posted by Carol Anne at 8:20 AM on November 26, 2008

Best answer: 250 ppb is considered a trace amount.

Trace amounts are just that: traces. Its from being in contact with a plastic. Its also in parts per BILLION. The Chinese issues was 65 parts per MILLION. Youre a whole order of magnitude away from anything close to melamine poisoning.

Its considered safe to to have 2.5 or less ppMILLION of malamine.

In other words: the media and over-the-top "safety advocates" make money scaring people but they arent being scientific or fair about this when communicating to a general audience.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:35 AM on November 26, 2008

Here's a docment on on what ppb and ppm is. Oh, are you giving your child tap or bottled water? If so, youre giving him/her some aresenic and uranium at the ppb scale.

You should be more worried about salt intake and car accidents.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:41 AM on November 26, 2008

Youre a whole order of magnitude away from anything close to melamine poisoning.

One part per million is three orders of magnitude larger than a part per billion. That's 101010 times larger.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:36 PM on November 26, 2008

If I were a parent, I'd avoid infant formula

CarolAnne, that's just unhelpful. What are parents supposed to do who cannot exclusively breastfeed? It's hardly a choice for many people and saying stuff like that contributes nothing other than anxiety.

Cjets, you're in the same position as many others. Please don't beat yourself up about that kind of remark. Just do as much research as you can, and know you're not alone. Let us know what decision you come to, it will help lots of us.

posted by taff at 5:30 PM on November 26, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I appreciate the info. For the moment, we've decided to stay the course with the Enfamil we're using. In large part becauze the FDA has confirmed that there was no Melamine found in the Enfamil.

But also for the reasons discussed above. That's been my understanding regarding trace elements of "bad things" (Both my kids have had all their vaccinations, for example), but I appreciate the reassurances.

Regarding the "Zero Tolerance" title, that was in reference to the FDA's own statement regarding Melamine in October after the news about China. They said they had a "Zero Tolerance" policy regarding melamine in formula. Apparently, that has changed. That and the tragedy in China had me paranoid. I'm glad I had Askme to turn to.

And, yes, Taff, Formula is a necessity for some of us. As my pediatrician said to us after our first: "If the worst thing that ever happens to your son is that he's fed formula, he'll be a very happy boy."
posted by cjets at 6:41 PM on November 26, 2008

What are parents supposed to do who cannot exclusively breastfeed?

Make your own formula.
posted by kmennie at 9:05 AM on November 27, 2008

One part per million is three orders of magnitude larger than a part per billion. That's 101010 times larger.

Ah, no. Three orders of magnitude is 103 times larger. Recall that 1000 times 1 million is 1 billion. See also.
posted by telstar at 3:59 PM on November 27, 2008

Just revisiting this, because of this news article.

The FDA has set a threshold of 1 part per million as being safe. The two samples of formula which were positive came in at 0.137 and 0.140 parts per million, well below that threshold.
posted by Class Goat at 11:36 PM on November 28, 2008


Food and Drug Administration officials on Friday set a threshold of 1 part per million of melamine in formula, provided a related chemical is not present. They insisted the formulas are safe.

Stop fretting over ppBILLION traces.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:58 AM on November 29, 2008

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