Chinese candies imported to New Zealand have been found to contain melamine–at a level of 180 milligrams per kilogram. The candies only weigh a few milligrams so each one doesn’t have much. They are unlikely to be harmful unless some kid eats a lot of them. But, as I explain in Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine (and how’s that for a good guess?), very low doses of melamine can form crystals in kidneys if one of its by-products, cyanuric acid, is also present. The lowest harmful dose of melamine plus cyanuric acid has not been defined. We are now hearing lots of calls for more inspections and better regulation of imported foods, and about time too. In the meantime, if a food comes from China and has milk as an ingredient, send it back.
As for the latest on the scandal over melamine in Chinese infant formula, the numbers keep growing: 53,000 sick infants, thousands of hospitalizations, and 3 deaths. The formula companies – at least 20 brands are involved – were diluting milk with water and adding melamine to make the milk look as if it had enough protein. This, apparently, has been an open secret in China since 2007, and should have been expected from what was known about melamine in pet foods. Hence: Chihuahua in the Coal Mine.