Politics of the Plate: A Formulaic Response from the Food and Drug Administration

While other countries were banning milk contaminated with melamine, the U.S. FDA was allowing that very chemical into our food supply.
milk products

Reacting to a spate of infant hospitalizations and deaths in China linked to milk contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, more than 50 countries—everybody from tiny developing nations like Togo, to wealthy places like France—placed total bans on milk products from China late last month.

Notably absent from that list was the United States.

Now we know why.

While other countries were working to protect their citizens from exposure to melamine, which can cause kidney failure, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was busily drafting guidelines to establish “acceptable levels” of the plastic compound in our food supply. Last Friday, the FDA assured us that concentrations below 2.5 parts per million in foods other than baby formula were safe.

Noting that melamine contamination is completely avoidable (the nitrogen-rich chemical was intentionally dumped into Chinese formula to make it appear higher in protein), the consumer group Food and Water Watch claimed that the FDA was “more concerned with promoting imports than protecting consumers,” noting that despite the agency’s assurances, there is still scientific uncertainty about the chemical’s human health effects.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn), head of the committee that oversees the FDA, told The Washington Post that the agency was trying to convince American consumers that melamine is not harmful. “Not only is this an insult to consumers, but it would appear that the FDA is condoning the intentional contamination of foods,” she said.

In January, the FDA told us that meat from cloned animals was safe to eat. In August, the agency said that there was nothing wrong with a pinch or two of Bisphenol A in plastic bottles. Later that month, it said there was no harm in irradiating spinach and lettuce, and just two weeks ago it came out with a set of regulations that pave the way for genetically modified meat and fish to enter our food supply.

Could there be a trend here?

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