The melamine scandal has rocked consumer confidence in infant formula, and “restoring consumer confidence is critical,” said Ezzeddine Boutrif, director of the FAO nutrition and consumer protection division.
"Melamine-contaminated 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 Boutrif.
Food makers have speared opportunities in the market for milk formulas that meet the dietary needs of infants and counter-balance deficiency needs. The European infant formula market alone is estimated to be worth about €600m.
But infant formula and baby milk have been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons this week after it emerged that milk powder for infants was found to have been contaminated with melamine in China.
The compound alone is of low toxicity, but studies with animals have suggested that combination of melamine with cyanuric acid, a potential impurity of melamine, may lead to the kidney problems observed in China.
The level of melamine found in the contaminated infant formula has been as high as 2,560 milligrams per kilogram ready to eat product, while the level of cyanuric acid is unknown, according to figures provided by World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Although investigations are still underway, it is thought that melamine was added at milk collection depots to mask the fact that it had been watered down by giving the appearance of a good protein content. (Both melamine and protein have a high nitrogen content, and nitrogen is usually measured to establish protein levels).
WHO and the FAO called on all countries to be alert to the possible spread of melamine contaminated dairy products.
And the responsibility extends to the food and nutrition industries, said the organizations.
“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,” said Boutrif.
Jorgen Schlundt, director of the WHO food safety department, added: "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.”
The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) confirmed that no baby milk manufactured in China can be sold legally in the UK. The agency also took steps to assure parents and caregivers that no milk or milk products imported from China can be used by manufacturers of baby milks sold in the UK.
Similar moves across the pond
Earlier this week the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a public warning that infant formula manufactured in China may not be safe because of concerns over melamine contamination.
The administration advised that caregivers should refrain from using Chinese-made formula and replace it with “an appropriate infant formula manufactured in the United States”.