FDA: Infant formula from China tainted by chemical

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal officials warned Thursday that tainted infant formula from China may be on sale at ethnic groceries in this country, even though it is not legally approved for importation.

The Food and Drug Administration urged U.S. consumers to avoid all infant formula from China, after several brands sold in that country came under suspicion of being contaminated with melamine, a chemical used in plastics. Officials said there have been reports from China of babies developing serious kidney problems as a result.

"We're concerned that there may be some infant formula that may have gotten into the United States illegally and may be on the ethnic market," said Janice Oliver, deputy director of the FDA's food safety program. "No infant formula from China should be entering the United States, but in the past we have found it on at least one occasion."

All U.S. brands of infant formula are safe, Oliver said. After hearing of the latest food safety scandal in China, the FDA checked with formula manufacturers here to determine if they were receiving any ingredients from that country. They were not.

"We want to assure the American public there is no threat of contamination to the domestic supply," said Oliver. There have been no reports of illnesses in the U.S., but officials are concerned that some Chinese formula may be on sale at ethnic groceries, particularly in places like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston that have large populations of Chinese immigrants.

The FDA is working with state officials to spread the word in immigrant communities. Melamine is the same chemical involved in a massive pet food recall last year. It is not supposed to be added to any food ingredients, but unscrupulous suppliers in China sometimes mix it in to make foodstuffs appear to be high in protein. Melamine is nitrogen rich, and standard tests for protein in bulk food ingredients measure levels of nitrogen.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)