FDA warns baby formula could be contaminated

— -- The Food and Drug Administration is alerting Asian and ethnic markets across the USA that infant formula made in China may be contaminated.

The FDA is working with state health agencies across the country to make members of Chinese American communities aware of the danger.

Chinese newspapers report that some infant formula has been linked to kidney problems and kidney stones in babies in China because the formula contains melamine — the same industrial contaminant from China that poisoned and killed thousands of U.S. dogs and cats last year.

No baby formula approved for use in the USA is manufactured in China, according to the FDA. "We want to reassure the public that there's no contamination in the domestic supply of infant formula," says Janice Oliver, deputy of operations at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

In addition, no U.S. manufacturers or marketers of infant formula receive ingredients from China. "We contacted all of them," Oliver says.

The FDA is concerned that illegal infant formula may be sold in Asian and ethnic markets. That happened in 2004, when fake infant formula from China, which killed dozens of babies in that country, was found in at least one U.S. store. "We don't want any babies to get sick. None of this should be in the United States. We're not aware of anyone finding it here, but knowing that it happened once before, we want to get the word out," Oliver says.

Reports in the Chinese news media say that as many as 60 babies have been admitted to hospitals with kidney stones and that the illnesses have been linked to powdered formula.

Melamine is a byproduct of plastic manufacturing. It can be used to mimic high-protein additives such as wheat and rice gluten.

In March 2007, the discovery that pet food was causing kidney disease and death in dogs and cats across North America led to the largest pet food recall in U.S. history. Melamine and a related chemical, cyanuric acid, had been added to grain products in China to fraudulently increase their apparent protein content, making them appear to be gluten. The products were sold as gluten to U.S. and Canadian pet food manufacturers.

Veterinary pathologists established that the combination of melamine and cyanuric acid caused crystals to form in the urinary tracts of animals.