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      The Melamine Incident: Implications for International Food and Feed Safety


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          A major food safety incident in China was made public in September 2008. Kidney and urinary tract effects, including kidney stones, affected about 300,000 Chinese infants and young children, with six reported deaths. Melamine had been deliberately added at milk-collecting stations to diluted raw milk ostensibly to boost its protein content. Subsequently, melamine has been detected in many milk and milk-containing products, as well as other food and feed products, which were also exported to many countries worldwide.


          The melamine event represents one of the largest deliberate food contamination incidents. We provide a description and analysis of this event to determine the global implications on food and feed safety.


          A series of factors, including the intentional character of the milk contamination, the young age of the population affected, the large number of potentially contaminated products, the global distribution of these products, and the delay in reporting led this event to take on unexpected proportions. This incident illustrated the complexity of international trade of food products and food ingredients that required immediate actions at international level.


          Managing food-safety events should be done internationally and early on as soon as multinational consequences are expected. Collaboration between food-safety authorities worldwide is needed to efficiently exchange information and to enable tracking and recalling of affected products to ensure food safety and to protect public health.

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          Most cited references9

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          Outbreaks of renal failure associated with melamine and cyanuric acid in dogs and cats in 2004 and 2007.

          Sixteen animals affected in 2 outbreaks of pet food-associated renal failure (2 dogs in 2004; 10 cats and 4 dogs in 2007) were evaluated for histopathologic, toxicologic, and clinicopathologic changes. All 16 animals had clinical and laboratory evidence of uremia, including anorexia, vomiting, lethargy, polyuria, azotemia, and hyperphosphatemia. Where measured, serum hepatic enzyme concentrations were normal in animals from both outbreaks. All animals died or were euthanized because of severe uremia. Distal tubular lesions were present in all 16 animals, and unique polarizable crystals with striations were present in distal tubules or collecting ducts in all animals. The proximal tubules were largely unaffected. Crystals and histologic appearance were identical in both outbreaks. A chronic pattern of histologic change, characterized by interstitial fibrosis and inflammation, was observed in some affected animals. Melamine and cyanuric acid were present in renal tissue from both outbreaks. These results indicate that the pet food-associated renal failure outbreaks in 2004 and 2007 share identical clinical, histologic, and toxicologic findings, providing compelling evidence that they share the same causation.
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            Assessment of melamine and cyanuric acid toxicity in cats.

            The major pet food recall associated with acute renal failure in dogs and cats focused initially on melamine as the suspect toxicant. In the course of the investigation, cyanuric acid was identified in addition to melamine in the offending food. The purpose of this study was to characterize the toxicity potential of melamine, cyanuric acid, and a combination of melamine and cyanuric acid in cats. In this pilot study, melamine was added to the diet of 2 cats at 0.5% and 1%, respectively. Cyanuric acid was added to the diet of 1 cat at increasing doses of 0.2%, 0.5%, and 1% over the course of 10 days. Melamine and cyanuric acid were administered together at 0%, 0.2%, 0.5%, and 1% to 1 cat per dose group. No effect on renal function was observed in cats fed with melamine or cyanuric acid alone. Cats dosed with a combination were euthanized at 48 hours after dosing because of acute renal failure. Urine and touch impressions of kidneys from all cats dosed with the combination revealed the presence of fan-shaped, birefringent crystals. Histopathologic findings were limited to the kidneys and included crystals primarily within tubules of the distal nephron, severe renal interstitial edema, and hemorrhage at the corticomedullary junction. The kidneys contained estimated melamine concentrations of 496 to 734 mg/kg wet weight and estimated cyanuric acid concentrations of 487 to 690 mg/kg wet weight. The results demonstrate that the combination of melamine and cyanuric acid is responsible for acute renal failure in cats.
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              Melamine-contaminated powdered formula and urolithiasis in young children.

              A recent epidemic of melamine contamination of baby formula in China has been associated with the development of urinary tract stones, though the clinical manifestations and predisposing factors are incompletely delineated. We administered a questionnaire to the parents of children 36 months of age or younger who were being screened for a history of exposure to melamine and symptoms of, and possible predisposing factors for, urinary tract stones. In addition, we performed urinalysis, renal-function and liver-function tests, urinary tests for biochemical markers and the calcium:creatinine ratio, and ultrasonography. Powdered-milk infant formulas were classified as having a high melamine content (>500 ppm), a moderate melamine content (<150 ppm), or no melamine (0 ppm); no formulas contained between 150 and 500 ppm of melamine. Contaminated formula was ingested by 421 of 589 children. Fifty had urinary stones, including 8 who had not received melamine-contaminated formula; 112 were suspected to have stones; and 427 had no stones. Among children with stones, 5.9% had hematuria and 2.9% had leukocyturia, percentages that did not differ significantly from those among children who were suspected to have stones or those who did not have stones. Serum creatinine, urea nitrogen, and alanine aminotransferase levels were normal in the 22 children with stones who were tested. Four of the 41 children (9.8%) who had stones and in whom urinary markers of glomerular function were measured had evidence of abnormalities; none had tubular dysfunction. Children exposed to high-melamine formula were 7.0 times as likely to have stones as those exposed to no-melamine formula. Preterm infants were 4.5 times as likely to have stones as term infants. Prematurity and exposure to melamine-contaminated formula were associated with urinary stones. Affected children lacked typical signs and symptoms of urolithiasis. 2009 Massachusetts Medical Society

                Author and article information

                Environ Health Perspect
                Environmental Health Perspectives
                National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
                December 2009
                6 August 2009
                : 117
                : 12
                : 1803-1808
                World Health Organization, Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses, Geneva, Switzerland
                Author notes
                Address correspondence to A. Tritscher, World Health Organization, Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses, 20 Ave. Appia, CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland. Telephone: 41-22-791-35-69. Fax: 41-22-791-48-07. E-mail: tritschera@ 123456who.int

                Current address: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Preparedness and Response Unit, Stockholm, Sweden.

                The authors declare they have no competing financial interests.

                This is an Open Access article: verbatim copying and redistribution of this article are permitted in all media for any purpose, provided this notice is preserved along with the article's original DOI.
                : 6 May 2009
                : 6 August 2009

                Public health
                risk assessment,food safety,renal failure,milk powder,infant formula,kidney stones,melamine,world health organization


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