26/09/08 The European Union has
banned imports of baby food containing Chinese milk on the back of the
melamine crisis. The chemical that was illegally added to China's
dairy supplies has turned up in candy and other Chinese-made goods that
were quickly pulled from stores worldwide. The crisis originally arised with an infant milk
produced by Sanlu (pictured), but the issue has
spread. Melamine has been found in infant formula and other milk products
from 22 Chinese dairy companies. Suppliers trying to cut costs are believed
to have added it to watered-down milk because its high nitrogen content
masks the resulting protein deficiency.
The EU ban adds to the
growing list of countries that have banned or recalled Chinese dairy
products because of the contamination which has killed four Chinese babies
and sickened 54,000. In addition to the ban, the European Commission called
for more checks on other Chinese food imports.
The EU ban followed the
European Commission’s request to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
to provide urgent scientific advice on health risks for European consumers
related to the possible presence of melamine in composite foods containing
milk or milk products originating from China.
The import of milk and
milk products originating from China is prohibited into the EU, however composite food products such as biscuits and
chocolate, which could be made from contaminated milk powder, may have
reached the EU. Therefore, the European Commission requested EFSA to
provide scientific advice on the risk for human health related to presence
of melamine in such composite foods.
The primary target organ
for melamine toxicity is the kidney. There is uncertainty with respect to
the time scale for the development of kidney damage. Thus, EFSA applied a
tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 0.5 mg/kg body weight (b.w.)
in considering possible health effects which might occur with repeated
consumption of melamine contaminated products over a relatively short
EFSA was asked to
consider health effects due to melamine exposure via the consumption of
contaminated biscuits and confectionary. Based on available data, EFSA
developed a number of theoretical exposure scenarios for biscuits and
chocolate containing milk powder both for adults and children. In the
absence of actual data for milk powder, EFSA used the highest value of melamine
(approximately 2,500 mg/kg) reported in Chinese infant formula as a basis
for worst case scenarios.
EFSA’s scientists said in a statement that
if adults in Europe were to consume
chocolates and biscuits containing contaminated milk powder, they would not
exceed the TDI (Tolerable Daily Intake) of 0.5 mg/kg body weight, even in
worst case scenarios. Children with a mean consumption of biscuits, milk
toffee and chocolate made with such milk powder would also not exceed the
TDI. However, in worst case scenarios with the highest level of
contamination, children with high daily consumption of milk toffee,
chocolate or biscuits containing high levels of milk powder would exceed
the TDI. Children who consume both such biscuits and chocolate could
potentially exceed the TDI by up to more than three times.
High levels of melamine
can primarily affect the kidneys. EFSA applied the TDI of 0.5 mg/kg body
weight for melamine in a specific case of contamination in 2007.
The Commission requested
EFSA to focus its assessment on biscuits and chocolate which contain milk
powder as such products can be imported from China. EFSA developed
theoretical exposure scenarios based on European consumption figures of
biscuits and chocolate. In the absence of available data for contaminated
milk powder, EFSA also used the highest value of melamine, reported in
Chinese infant formula as a basis for worst case scenarios. EFSA stressed
that it is not known at the moment whether such theoretical high level
exposure scenarios could occur in Europe.