The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) came under fire after initially hiding the fact that melamine was found in infant formula sold in this country. Eventually, the extent of the problem became apparent: Melamine was present in 90 per cent of the infant formula on the market, including brands from Enfamil, Mead Johnson and Nestlé.

What is melamine?

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes melamine as an organic base chemical most commonly found in the form of white crystals rich in nitrogen. It’s used in dishware, tiles, laminates, glues, adhesives, and moulding compounds.

Why is it in food?

Melamine is a cheap substantial source of nitrogen. It was added to formula, milk, soy and pet food products to increase the apparent protein content in these foods.

What are the side effects of melamine?

The crisis in China revealed that this chemical can cause kidney stones, renal failure and urinary tract ailments in infants, leading to death. The WHO indicates that there are no human studies on oral toxicity of melamine. However several animal studies show side effects such as inflammatory reactions, kidney stones, bladder stones, and urinary tumors in animals.

Furthermore, when combined with cyanuric acid, a by-product of melamine production, the risk of poisoning substantially increases, leading to crystal formation and kidney toxicity. The pet food that claimed the lives of thousands of cats and dogs in 2007 contained both melamine and cyanuric acid.

What are the WHO guidelines for melamine consumption by children?

According to the UN agency humans ingest melamine from various sources every day. These are usually trace amounts at about 0.007 milligram per kilogram body weight. The compound is present in some foods such as poultry and fish, pesticides used on crops, and pool water. In Europe it has also be found in some confections and beverages.

Without further studies, the WHO explains that it’s too early to identify “safe” levels of melamine for humans. Instead, they’ve set Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) levels at 0.2 milligram per kilogram of body weight. So if your child is 40 pounds, a tolerable amount of melamine would be 8 mg per day.

However, the WHO points out that not enough information exists regarding specific sensitivity of infants to melamine. The FDA “safe” levels that were set last November are under heavy scrutiny; critics point out that they were rushed to after melamine was found in formula in the U.S. Also, the FDA levels are higher than those in countries such as Canada and Taiwan, which has one of the strictest melamine standards in the world.

A Better Alternative

Living in an increasingly green society, the answer to toxic infant formula, milk and other foods seems obvious. Go organic. You can find hundreds of organic products on supermarket shelves and in health food stores. Also look for organic products at local farmers’ markets.

For babies, the greenest answer is to breastfeed. Several studies prove that breast milk is much healthier for infants than formula or milk. Breast milk protects your child against allergies, boosts brain and immune system development, and enhances the mother-child bond. It also reduces your baby’s exposure to toxins and lightens the load on landfills everywhere.