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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

For Consumers

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Low Risk of Illness From Food Containing Melamine

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The risk to human health is very low from eating meat from hogs and chickens that have been fed animal feed supplemented with pet food scraps containing melamine and related compounds, according to a risk assessment conducted by federal scientists. This conclusion supports the decision announced on April 28, 2007, not to recall meat from animals that were fed contaminated product.

The risk assessment is an important new science-based component of the continuing federal joint investigation into imported vegetable protein products from China that contained melamine and related compounds. Melamine is an industrial chemical that has no approved use in human or animal food in the United States.

What information supports this conclusion?
In the most extreme scenario considered in the assessment, scientists assumed that all the solid food a person consumes in an entire day was contaminated with melamine at the levels observed in animals fed contaminated feed. In this scenario, the potential exposure to humans was about 2,500 times lower than the level considered safe. In other words, it was well below any level of public health concern.

The pet food scraps fed to hogs and chickens made up only a small percentage of the farm animal rations. In addition, melamine is known to be excreted in animal urine, and believed not to accumulate in the body of animals. When exposure levels are much higher, as was the case with cats and dogs, the melamine and its compounds appear to cause the formation of crystals in the kidney systems, resulting in kidney damage. There was no indication of kidney damage in hogs. Both hogs and chickens known to have been fed contaminated feed appear to be healthy.

Who conducted the risk assessment?
The risk assessment was conducted by scientists from:

  • FDA
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

This team is now compiling a scientific assessment of the risk to animal health associated with eating animal feed that contains melamine and its compounds.

How did melamine get from pet food to human food?
Scraps of contaminated pet food that contained only low levels of melamine were distributed to farms in a limited number of states and added to the feed eaten by hogs and poultry. Some of these animals were processed for human food.

What is happening to the animals on farms that may have eaten contaminated feed?
Hogs and poultry on farms suspected of receiving contaminated feed have been held under state quarantine or voluntarily by the owners. In several cases, feed samples have tested negative for melamine and related compounds. It is assumed that because only small amounts of the contaminated feed were mixed with other rations, the melamine and related compounds were no longer detectable. USDA has concluded that, based on the human risk assessment and the inability to detect melamine in the feed samples, these animals no longer need to be quarantined or withheld from processing.

In other cases, feed samples were not available, feed samples have tested positive for melamine and related compounds, or feed samples have not yet been submitted for testing. These animals continue to be withheld from processing pending the results of an animal risk assessment. This assessment is expected to be completed by May 15, 2007. At that time, USDA will determine whether these animals can be released for inspection and further processing.

USDA and FDA continue to conduct a full and comprehensive investigation. As additional information is confirmed, updates will be provided and decisions will be made using the best available science to protect the public's health.

This article appears on FDA's Consumer Health Information Web page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

Date Posted: May 14, 2007