Thursday, October 30, 2008

yet another reason to go locavore

Just in time for Halloween! Poison candy!

From “Melamine is an industrial chemical compound that some Chinese milk-based product manufacturers have added to their products in an attempt to artificially inflate the reading for protein levels. Chronic exposure to melamine can cause a number of severe health issues including bladder or kidney stones, acute kidney failure, reproductive damage, respiratory irritation and bladder cancer.”

Melamine is the substance responsible for killing several Chinese babies and sickening thousands more who drank tainted formula.

We know for sure that there are products (pet food, for example) that have been imported to Canada and the US that contained melamine. We also know for sure that melamine in Chinese milk products remains an issue. Candies from China that were tainted with melamine were definitely exported to Canada and England. Specifically, Pirate’s Gold chocolate coins and White Rabbit chocolates sold in Canada, as well as 11 different Cadbury products in Great Britain and some Asian markets.

Right now, the FDA is basically telling American consumers not to worry about candy found in the U.S. (though this link does contain a list of other food products that have been imported from China and found to contain melamine.)

However, I think perhaps more caution is warranted for a couple of reasons. First, it is certainly possible, given the global nature of our economy, that candies originally slated for sale at Costco and dollar stores in Canada have made their way to Costco and dollar stores in the U.S. Second, and more importantly, it is possible that the problem is much greater in scale than just a few brands or types of candy.

According to the FDA website, the U.S. imports milk-derived ingredients including whole milk powder, non-fat milk powder, whey powder, lactose powder, and casein. The FDA is sampling and testing these products when offered for import from Chinese sources to determine if they contain melamine.

The Associated Press says that Hershey has never imported milk products from China for use in its candies. However, the AP reports that Mars North America’s statement says that its operations in China do not get any ingredients from companies found to be selling melamine-contaminated dairy products. It says the Chinese food-safety agency tested samples of Mars China's milk powder suppliers and found them to be free of melamine.

Maybe I’m just paranoid, but I really don’t trust Chinese food-safety agency tests at this point. And we really don’t know the scope of the contamination, so it’s possible that even if Mars doesn’t source from companies known to be selling melamine contaminated products, there are companies doing so that just haven’t been found out yet. Mars makes Snickers and M&Ms.

If you want to err on the side of caution, you might want to avoid any candies made by Mars, and really, ANY food products from China (this is more difficult that it might seem!) However, if you want to just eat your candy and not worry about it, this statement about toxicity levels from the FDA might make you feel better:

“In food products other than infant formula, the FDA concludes levels of melamine and melamine-related compounds below 2.5 parts per million (ppm) do not raise health concerns. This conclusion assumes a worst case exposure scenario in which 50% of a person’s diet is contaminated at this level, and applies a 10-fold safety factor to the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) to account for any uncertainties. The TDI is an estimate of the maximum amount of an agent to which an individual could be exposed on a daily basis over the course of a lifetime without an appreciable health risk.”

As a side note, the FDA says that NO level of melamine in infant formula is safe.

Happy Halloween!