Since the problem of milk contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine to boost the apparent protein content came to light, incidents of melamine-containing foods have swept the globe. Major manufacturers using milk powder, including Cadbury and Unilever have withdrawn some products from sale.
In the UK, melamine has been detected in batches of White Rabbit confectionery from China, sold in supermarkets. White rabbit sweets and koala biscuits from China have also been recalled in France after high melamine levels were found.
Imports of milk and milk products, such as milk powder, are already not allowed into the European Community; however the Commission said that composite products – that contain both a product of animal origin and a product of non-animal origin – and which may also have processed milk components, could have reach the EU.
Previous rules have meant that such products may not have been subjected to systematic border checks when they were presented for import.
“Taking into account that such products represent the primary, and in some cases sole, source of nourishment for infants and young children, it is appropriate to prohibit the import into the Community of any such products originating from China,” is said.
Testing chocolates and biscuits
Other composite products that may contain milk or milk powder are described as “only a minor part of a varied diet”.
The Commissioned asked its risk assessor, the European Food Safety Authority, to conduct a theoretical exercise to determine the risks of melamine in such products.
The conclusion was that the highest risk was in a worst case scenario, where children with the highest consumption of chocolate and biscuits could exceed the tolerable daily intake of melamine (0.5 mg/kg body weight) if contamination was at the highest level seen in China.
In an earlier decision made at the end of September, the Commission ruled that member states must have all products originating from China tested if they contain at least 15 per cent milk.
However, it has now decided that controls should take place regardless of the amount of milk in the products, since member states reported it is very difficult to establish the exact milk or milk product content.
A cut off point for melamine detected has been established at 2.5mg/kg of product. Any product exceeding this would have to be immediately destroyed, and the Commission notifies through the rapid alert system.
This level was seen to be appropriate since some unavoidable level of melamine occurs in food as a result of migration from packaging materials or from pesticides.
The Commission is also requiring that testing is carried out on composite products imported from China that are already present in the member states.
It provides that the cost of testing products from China should be borne by the import operators; costs of official measures should a product fail the checks would be borne by the food or feed business operator.