GENEVA (AP) -- An international food safety meeting set the first global limits for melamine contamination in food and infant formula, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
Melamine contamination in milk products was blamed for sickening nearly 300,000 babies and the deaths of at least six infants in China in 2008. Melamine is an industrial chemical used in making plastics, fertilizers and even concrete, but can also fool tests checking the protein content of dairy products.
Around 130 countries at the annual meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission decided to limit melamine to 2.5 milligrams per kilogram, said WHO. The threshold for infant milk formula was set at 1 milligram per kilogram, equivalent to the U.S. limit of 1 part per million.
WHO expert Angelika Tritscher said the limits still allow for the occurrence of very low levels of melamine in food that stem from the use of the insecticide cyromazine and from contact with plastic dishes and some table top services.
"These are definitely not of health concern," she said, explaining that the body can deal with low levels of melamine.
Deliberately contaminating food, as happened in the case of the Chinese milk powder, is illegal, Tritscher said.
The new melamine limits won't be legally binding but countries can refuse to allow the import of products deemed below minimum quality.