Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Melamine milk crisis

Countries to ensure safe feeding for infants and increase vigilance

Geneva/Rome, 26 September 2008 – The World Health Organization (WHO) and the
UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are urging affected countries to
ensure safe feeding of millions of infants following the ongoing melamine
milk crisis in China. The two agencies also called on countries to be alert
to the possible spread of melamine contaminated dairy products.

Safe feeding

"While breastfeeding is the ideal way of providing infants with the
nutrients they need for healthy growth and development - it is also critical
to ensure that there is an adequate supply of safe powdered infant formula
to meet the needs of infants who are not breastfed," said Jørgen Schlundt,
Director of the WHO Food Safety Department.

Replacing powdered infant formula with other products such as condensed
milk, honey mixed with milk, or fresh milk is inappropriate as such products
would put at risk the safety and nutritional status of this vulnerable
population group, the two agencies advised.

"Restoring consumer confidence is critical. Melamine-contaminat ed products
should be removed from the food chain in order to prevent further exposure.
The safe supply of dairy products needs to be restored immediately,” said
Ezzeddine Boutrif, Director of the FAO Nutrition and Consumer Protection
Division.

WHO recommends that all infants should be fed exclusively with breast milk
for the first six months of life. No other liquid or food, not even water,
is needed during this period. Thereafter, infants should receive adequate
and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues up to two years
of age and beyond.

Increased vigilance

Countries should closely monitor their markets, following reports of
findings of imported melamine-contaminat ed products in several countries
over the last two weeks.

The two agencies highlighted that melamine-contaminat ed products could reach
markets in other countries through both formal and informal trade. Getting
information about the origin of the product, up to date recall information
or in some cases testing for melamine contamination might be considered. If
found contaminated, appropriate actions such as product recall and safe
disposal should be taken, based on an assessment of the risk to human
health.

Food safety is not the sole responsibility of public authorities. The food
industry is also responsible for ensuring a safe supply of food to the
consumer.

“It is critical that the industry strongly invests in food safety and adopts
a food safety culture covering the food chain from raw materials through to
the final product,” Boutrif said. Incidents such as this not only impact
food safety and human health but also put the livelihoods of hundreds of
millions of dairy farmers at risk. "There is a need for countries to do
major investment in strengthening their food control and food-borne disease
surveillance systems as it could minimise the potential occurrence of food
safety incidents like this one," Schlundt said.

The melamine-contaminat ed dairy products event first came to the attention
of the international organizations on 11 September. Both WHO and FAO have
used the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) to inform
and update national food safety authorities on this food safety crisis, one
of the largest in recent years.

Over 54,000 children have sought medical treatment in China related to the
consumption of melamine-contaminat ed infant formula. Almost 12,900 are
currently hospitalized.

Melamine is commonly used in food contact materials (e.g. containers,
labels, etc.) and can also be used in agriculture production such as
fertilizer. Whether this has a potential for carry over into food at low
concentrations (usually in the range of microgram per kilogram) and further
impact on human health may need further evaluation. Melamine alone is of low
toxicity, however animal studies have suggested that kidney problems occur
when melamine is present in combination with cyanuric acid, a potential
impurity of melamine. The level of melamine found in the contaminated infant
formula has been as high as 2,560 miligram per kilogram ready to eat
product, while the level of cyanuric acid is unknown.

From: www.fao.org

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