Wed, Oct 08, 2008 - Page 2 News List

Seminar on melamine postponed

EXPERTS An official said the country needs to gather more information concerning the toxicity of the chemical, including the ways that it pollutes food and harms health

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

Department of Health (DOH) Minister Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) said yesterday that an international seminar on melamine’s toxicity and Taiwan’s safety standards related to the chemical will be postponed until Oct. 17.

“In principle, the DOH has no plan to change the current safety standard,” Yeh said when asked if the department would readjust its strict standard on the level of melamine allowed in dairy products, after a press conference focusing on encouraging people to eat breakfast and get more exercise.

He indicated, however, that the current standard may lead to technological and commercial issues and suggested it might be necessary to move in step with international guidelines if the problems became serious.

At present, all raw material for creamers, milk powder and bady formula products in Taiwan must test negative for melamine when tested with highly sensitive liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometers, which can detect the presence of as little as 0.05ppm (parts per million) of melamine.

The main purpose of the seminar, to be attended by experts from the WHO, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the EU, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, is to verify if Taiwan’s safety standard, which might be the strictest in the world, is appropriate, he said.

The EU recently stipulated that food containing at least 15 percent or an unknown percentage of dairy products must not contain more than 2.5ppm of melamine. In New Zealand, the safety standard for melamine for most food products is 5ppm, and 1ppm for baby formula.

As to the US, the FDA issued a guideline noting that eating 2.5ppm of melamine would not raise health concerns, even if a person ate melamine-tainted food every day. But it refused to set any permissible level of melamine in infant formula, saying “there is too much uncertainty to set a level in infant formula and rule out any public health concern.”

In addition to discussing safety standards for melamine, Taiwan needs to collect more information at the seminar about the toxicity of the chemical, including the ways in which it pollutes food and harms human health, Yeh said, adding that currently Taiwan only has data on melamine exposure from animal experiments.

As to the preparations for the international seminar, which was originally scheduled to be held on Monday, DOH spokesman Wang Je-chau (王哲超) said the department is still contacting experts.

The safety standard for the toxic chemical melamine has caused confusion for both consumers and the food industry in Taiwan over past few weeks.

Former DOH minister Lin Fang-yue (林芳郁) announced in late last month that food products containing up to 2.5ppm would be qualified for sale and were safe to eat, taking into consideration different sensitivities of test instruments and the possibility that melamine could have accidentally come into contact with food.

But Lin’s decision ignited an uproar among consumers and opposition politicians, who believed that the agency had “loosened” the safety standard, putting their health at risk. Lin later resigned over the decision.

Also See: How to keep chemicals far from the dinner table

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