High levels of melamine found in two baby formula products recalled this week might be from animal feed, the KwaZulu-Natal health department said on Wednesday.
This week the department recalled a batch of Nestle's Nido Growing up Milk for one-year-olds manufactured in June, and a batch of Lactogen Starter Infant Formula with iron manufactured in July, said provincial health department spokesman Leon Mbangwa.
Mbangwa said tests done this month on a sample showed that Lactogen contained a level of 1.6 mg/kg of melamine and Nido 3 mg/kg of melamine. "This is more than the internationally accepted level of 1mg/kg for foodstuffs intended for infants and young children, such as infant formula, applied by the department of health as a cut-off level."
Mbangwa said information from the manufacturer indicated that the product was made in South Africa and contained only locally produced ingredients like fresh milk. "The manufacturer has determined that the source of the contamination derived from animal feed used by some of its suppliers of fresh milk." Mbangwa said the health department had informed the agriculture department about the situation.
"The department of agriculture...is responsible for the control of the quality and safety of animal feed." He said the department had been requested to investigate whether the contaminated feed was produced locally or was imported - possibly from China.
Nestle blames cattle feed
Nestle spokesman Theo Mxakwe said since the melamine crisis in China in mid September, Nestle had been testing all its dairy products.
"Testing led to the discovery of melamine in a number of samples of cattle feed which is predominantly used in winter, which explains the presence of melamine traces in these batches.
"Consequently, Nestlé has also taken steps to ensure that the cattle feed used by its South African milk producers is melamine free."
He said all Nestle dairy products sold in South Africa and worldwide were "absolutely safe for consumption".
Mbangwa said a total recall of the two batches on the market was requested immediately after the release of the test results. The department had asked to be informed of all steps taken to seize and destroy the products by Friday.
Return the product
Anyone who has the product from the batches in question should stop using it and return it to the store from which it was purchased. Mbangwa said although the recalled products did not comply with internationally acceptable standards for the presence of melamine: "The level of contamination of the implicated product is considered not to pose a serious public health risk if the product is consumed in normal quantities".
The health department was not currently aware of any infants or young children affected by consuming the product and the situation would continue to be monitored.
Symptoms to look out for in children affected by melamine-contaminated products included irritability, blood in urine or little to no urine.
Mbangwa said melamine could form crystals that could cause kidney stones. Signs of kidney infection or failure would include lethargy, weakness, shortness of breath, generalised swelling, loss of appetite, fatigue, decreased mental function and high blood pressure.
"The department would like to advise mothers to feed babies breast milk. It is the best for babies.
"The public is advised to contact their nearest clinic for advice on alternative products," he said.
White Rabbit sweets also recalled
Last month, the health department recalled White Rabbit sweets after tests found they contained unacceptable levels of melamine.
The sweets, usually presented as an after-dinner treat at Chinese restaurants and sold in specialist supermarkets, were manufactured in Shangai, China. They were the only product out of 107 tested in South Africa at the time with unacceptable levels of the industrial chemical.
Earlier this year, melamine in Chinese-manufactured dairy products was blamed for many infant deaths and illnesses.
Because South Africa did not have regulations on melamine levels, it used levels applied in the European Union, the USA and New Zealand.
According to the World Health Organisation, melamine is a chemical compound used for laminates, glues, dinnerware, adhesives, moulding compounds, coatings and flame retardants. It is also used to inflate protein content in food. – (Sapa)
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