Unsafe at Any Sip?

The United States Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") discovered the industrial chemical melamine in samples of baby formula sold in the United States and notified the manufacturers of its findings but not the American public. According to an article in today's Washington Post, "FDA Draws Criticism After Chemicals Are Fund in U.S.-Made Baby Formula" by Lyndsey Layton, the Associated Press learned this as a result of a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") Request. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/26/AR2008112600386.html?hpid=moreheadlines


The FDA found melamine in Good Start Supreme Infant Formula with Iron, which is made by Nestle. Nestle doesn't exactly have a great track record with respect to its infant formulas. Nestle has been the subject of a boycott since the 1970's due to its promotion of infant formulas as an alternative to breast feeding which policies have been said to cause deaths and increased health problems among infants in Third World nations.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nestlé_boycott Nestle's was accused of giving poor women in the developing world free samples of infant formula in the hospitals after their babies were born. After starting the babies on this infant formula, the mothers would quit lactating naturally and would then have to buy the formula once they ran out of the samples since they could not breast feed any longer. The mixing of the infant formula with polluted water found in many parts of the developing world led to much higher rates of diarrhea and pneumonia than in breastfed children.


Well Nestle seems to be at it again. This time the FDA has found that Nestle's baby formula contains melamine. Melamine is an industrial chemical and is said to cause kidney and bladder stones and can cause kidney failure and death in the worst case scenario. Earlier this year melamine that had been found in infant formula manufactured in China was linked to more than 50,000 infants in Asia being hospitalized with at least four infants dying. Chinese manufacturers had apparently added the chemical to watered down infant formula to make the formula appear to have higher levels of protein than was actually contained in the formula. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/26/AR2008112600386.html?hpid=moreheadlines


What is most outrageous is that the federal government knew about this and talked to the companies about it in a conference call held Monday of this week but told the public nothing of its findings. The only reason we know about it at this time is because the Associated Press happened to do a FOIA request. As Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro noted, "This FDA, this Bush administration, instead of protecting the public health, is protecting industry, ... We're talking about babies. About the most vulnerable. This really makes me angry." Congress and public health advocates are calling for a recall of the infant formulas containing melamine.


The FDA seems to be speaking out of both sides of its mouth on the dangers of melamine. FDA spokesperson Judy Leon in quoted in the Washington Post article as stating that the amounts discovered are safe and that parents can continue to feed the formula to their children since allegedly, "trace levels do not pose a risk whatsoever." However this new statement contradicts the FDA's other recent statements about melamine, including that found in a position paper posted on its website this week which asserted that there are no safe levels of melamine for infants, "FDA is currently unable to establish any level of melamine and melamine-related compounds in infant formula that does not raise public health concerns."  


It is a true horror story when a company is potentially poisoning babies and the federal government knows about it and says nothing. We need to hold corporate America accountable as well as holding our own government accountable when it seems more concerned in protecting corporate economic interests than the public interest. 

To Nestle's credit, their

To Nestle's credit, their approach to righting the wrongs of the baby food scandal in the 70s by admitting fault is often a case study in business class on how to be a  responsible business.

I think there is sometimes the tendency to blame big business without putting it into context. In the 70s, no one knew that the baby formula would be mixed with dirty water or that formula is less healthy and mother's breast milk. Equally, I highly doubt that any higher-up official in Nestle today would ever condone their products getting tainted in that way. Much like the drug companies and the Chinese businesses they used to source heparin, it was a supply chain problem, not some intentional evil committed by the management.

Accountability is a must, but it isn't always a problem on the American production end of things--we have some pretty strict food and drug laws, and in a cost-cutting frenzy, it's no surprise that when they purchase food or drugs from developing countries with less stringent laws, when they buy from the lowest bidder, they get what they pay for. 

Non-evil companies know the difference and how to balance cost with quality, or babies end up with kidney stones and then die. 

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