contaminants in baby formula

As reported a few days ago, the FDA finally set the maximum safe level for melamine and cyanuric acid at 1 part per million each (after resisting setting a safety threshold in October). There is no safe level if both melamine and cyanuric acid are present. I just love the more complicated joint safety threshold. But I am underwhelmed by the FDA’s test results. Just two tests have positive results for melamine (0.137, 0.140 ppm) and three tests have positive results for cyanuric acid (0.247, 0.245, 0.249 ppm). While so many tests have zero melamine, and the ones that tested positive are well below the limit, I’d like to know a little more about the source and distribution of the contamination, since 6 babies died and 300,000 were hospitalized due to melamine contamination in China.

The variance is for these things is important. The FDA issued concerns about tuna after Consumer Reports noted that about 6% of light-tuna samples tested by the FDA had much higher levels of mercury than the other 94% of light-tuna samples. The levels weren’t necessarily dangerous, but high variance = more uncertainty = more risk. I’d like to know that the melamine levels in baby formula has low variance. The fact that so many tests found no melamine is promising, but given that the contaminant is present, shouldn’t some kind of confidence interval be constructed to “prove” that formula is safe?

This whole melamine saga is yet another reason I support breastfeeding. You never know what contaminants are going to be present. Having said that, most women are not able to exclusively breastfeed for the recommended duration of at least one year (10.4% make it to 12 months without having to supplement with formula), so most babies will be getting formula. Mothers shouldn’t have yet another thing to worry about.

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