Food safety

Expert meeting to review toxicological aspects of melamine and cyanuric acid, 1-4 December 2008

Held in collaboration with FAO and supported by Health Canada
Ottawa, Canada

Full report now available

Background papers

Description of the melamine-contamination event

More than 51 900 infants and young children in China were hospitalized for urinary problems, possible renal tube blockages and possible kidney stones related to the consumption of melamine contaminated infant formula and related dairy products. Six deaths among infants have been confirmed in mainland China. Non-fatal cases have also been found in Hong Kong SAR, Macao SAR and Taiwan, China. Kidney stones in infants are very rare.

Countries have also reported finding melamine in milk containing products, dairy and non-dairy products manufactured in China. So far, contamination has been found in liquid milk, frozen yogurt dessert, biscuits, candies and in coffee drink. All these products were most probably manufactured using ingredients made from melamine contaminated milk. The non-dairy products are animal-based (e.g. eggs) and are likely contaminated through animal feed tainted with melamine. Some countries have taken a range of measures to restrict or ban imports of a number of food products from China containing milk based ingredients.

In addition, melamine-contaminated animal feed originating from China has been found to be responsible for the deaths of a significant numbers of raccoon dogs in Liaoning, China. While it is yet to be determined whether this incident is an indication of a more widespread problem of melamine contamination of animal feed within China, food safety and animal health authorities have taken the necessary precautions as carryover of melamine from animal feed to foods of animal origin is a real possibility. Some countries have started testing for melamine in animal feed as well as setting interim limits for feed as a precautionary measure.

Chinese media reported at the beginning of September that some brands of infant formula were contaminated with melamine. While the exact onset date of illness resulting from consuming contaminated infant formula and the beginning of the contamination itself remain unknown, it appears that the contamination with melamine has happened in the primary production where it was intentionally added to raw milk at milk collection centres for at least 9 months.

In 2007, melamine was found in pet feed manufactured in China and exported to the United States of America, and caused the death of a large number of dogs and cats due to kidney failure.