The Food and Drug Administration has found trace amounts of the industrial poison melamine in baby formula and nutritional supplements sold in the U.S. The chemical is the same one that sickened at least 50,000 babies in China this year who drank contaminated formula. 

“The levels that we are detecting are extremely low,” Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told the Associated Press, adding that parents should not stop giving their tots formula (though they may want to check with their pediatricians). “They should not be changing the diet. If they’ve been feeding a particular product, they should continue to feed that product. That’s in the best interest of the baby.”

The test results were disclosed last night by the AP after it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The FDA found tiny amounts of melamine in Mead Johnson's Infant Formula Powder, Enfamil LIPIL with Iron, according to the news service. FDA tests also turned up melamine in two nutritional supplements for kids, Nestle's Peptamen Junior and Nutren Junior-Fiber. Cyanuric acid, a byproduct of melamine, was found in another Nestle product, Good Start Supreme Infant Formula with Iron, the AP says. The FDA says that the toxicity of cyanuric acid is being studied, but it's thought to be as powerful as melamine, according to the news wire.

Nestle spokesman David Mortazavi denied that cyanuric acid was found in any Nestle products. The melamine in the company's nutritional supplements are "tiny, trace amounts that are well below the recommended Food and Drug Administration limits, and are recognized as not harmful," Mortazavi said in a statement. He added that all of Nestle's Good Start infant formulas are manufactured in the U.S. "and they are not outsourced."

The FDA didn’t find melamine in Abbott's Similac, but the company's own testing did detect the chemical in one of its products, although a spokesperson refused to disclose which one, according to the AP.

The advocacy group Consumer's Union questioned whether the information would have come out had the AP not filed the FOIA. The FDA's advice not to change infant feeding practices "is of small comfort to parents and caregivers," the group said in a statement, adding that the agency's stance "is especially troubling" since it said on September 12 “not to feed infant formula manufactured in China to infants.”

Melamine is a compound used to manufacture plastics, but it can cause stones in the kidneys or bladder, and in severe cases, kidney failure. Melamine was used in China to artificially bulk up the purported protein content of formula, which resulted in the deaths of at least three of the thousands of babies sickened. China also was found to be using melamine for the same purpose in pet food, which resulted in the deaths of a reported 8,500 dogs and cats in the U.S. last year.

The amounts detected in U.S. formula and supplement samples were all in a "trace range" — far less than the 2,500 parts per million found in the Chinese milk products. The concentrations the FDA found were 10,000 times smaller, the AP says. "From a public health or infant health perspective, we consider those to be perfectly fine,” Sundlof told the AP.

In October, the agency said that it was "currently unable to establish any level of melamine and melamine-related compounds in infant formula that does not raise public health concerns."

Spokespersons for the FDA and infant-formula manufacturers other than Nestle did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment. A list of products previously recalled because of possible melamine contamination can be found here.

Image by iStockphoto/Isabelle Limbach