DOH, experts fail to reach agreement on melamine

INCONCLUSIVE: One expert said that there are 10 to 20 ways to test for the chemical and the level of sensitivity of measurements could vary because of human factors

By Shelley Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Wed, Oct 01, 2008 - Page 2

The Department of Health (DOH) announced last night that “no consensus could be reached” on the threshold for melamine detection after a meeting on testing procedures.

The meeting was chaired by Bureau of Food and Drug Analysis Director Chen Shu-kong (陳樹功) with 34 government officials, food safety experts and laboratory personnel in attendance.

Athough the department had scheduled a press conference to announce the results of the meeting, it only issued a press release afterwards.

“It’s not an easy task to seek a single solution to this problem,” the department said.

Wu Chia-cheng (吳家誠), deputy secretary-general of the Consumers’ Foundation and a chemistry professor at National Taiwan Normal University, told reporters later in the day that there were 10 to 20 ways to test for melamine, but the three discussed at the meeting — high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) — could all detect levels of melamine as low as less than 1 part per million (ppm).

Wu said the level of sensitivity could vary because of human factors, such as accidental contamination of a sample batch with a previous sample.

“For consumers to feel 100 percent safe, I hope the government will not tolerate any trace of melamine,” he said, “But because technology has its limitations, we should set a minimum number [for content detection], and methods which can detect melamine content under this number can be used [as a standard].”

Wu also suggested the health department test dairy products from the US and Europe, places that are considered “more developed,” and say what their melamine content is, if any, so consumers can use them as reference points in terms melamine concentration.

While HPLC, GC-MS and LC-MS are all used by laboratories in Taiwan, “it would be interpreted as favoring certain laboratories if specific methods were announced,” he said, adding that nothing could be finalized until the department makes a decision.

Meanwhile, 12,135 boxes of Regimenhouse Milk Sandwich Biscuits imported by Golden Kestrel Co were found to have 29.818 ppm of melamine, the company told Taipei City’s Health Department yesterday.

The cookies were sold in Costco stores. Costco had returned the biscuits to Golden Kestrel’s factory in Taipei County, said Chiang Yu-mei (姜郁美), director of the Food and Drug Division of the city’s health department. Chiang said the department had already asked the Taipei County Government to test more samples of the cookies.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MO YAN-CHIH