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FDA sets safety threshold for contaminant melamine.

Responding to concerns about the presence of the contaminant melamine in numerous foods made in China and exported to the United States and elsewhere, FDA says that consuming a very small amount of the chemical poses no serious risk.

The exception, officials said, is melamine in baby formula, which has sickened more than 54,000 infants in China. The agency said it was unable to determine what a safe amount of melamine in formula might be.

FDA set 2.5 parts per million as the maximum "tolerable" amount of melamine that could be safely consumed in other foods. Several melamine-contaminated foods found in recent weeks in the United States had far more of the chemical.

FDA guidelines were issued to help federal and state investigators checking for contaminated Chinese products as they enter the country and in Asian grocery stores. The agency's goal is to identify products with potentially dangerous levels of melamine, rather than to find each small instance of contamination.

Meanwhile, The Chinese milk-safety scandal exposes one of the pitfalls of a key strategy of the world's big multinational food companies: relying on local suppliers in emerging markets.

Last week, H.J. Heinz Co. said it will stop using milk from China in the baby food it sells on the mainland and in Hong Kong. Nestle SA, the world's biggest food company by sales, said it is examining its procedures for buying milk in China, where it relies on a network of individual farmers.

The announcements came as candy maker Cadbury PLC began pulling products made at its Beijing plant from store shelves across Asia after finding traces of the industrial chemical melamine in its chocolate. In recent weeks, companies like Cadbury had found their products and operations to be free of the contaminant, but now are finding minute amounts, adding to consumer jitters.

The problem shows how big food companies can struggle to impose food-safety standards on suppliers in the developing markets they increasingly rely on for sales growth. The companies can test their own factories and then later find problems with ingredients introduced earlier in their supply chains. Some, like Kraft Foods Inc., are seeking to address that challenge by conducting quality checks on local suppliers. Mars Inc., meanwhile, says it safeguards its products by using Chinese suppliers who own their entire production chains.

Chinese milk tainted with melamine, a chemical used in making furniture and other goods, has killed several children and made more than 54,000 sick in recent weeks. The United States, EU, India, South Korea and others have recalled or banned products as a result.
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Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Date:Oct 6, 2008
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