Poisonous Infant Formula May Be Closer Than You Think

By Linsey Knerl on 16 September 2008 15 comments
Photo: Jon Feinstein

The concern arises over Friday’s announcement of a major Chinese dairy recalled 700 tons of milk powder linked to a rash of illnesses in infants.  Most of the infants suffered from kidney stones, although two deaths had been reported at the time of this article.  The culprit?  Melamine, a substance used to make plastics, is reportedly not supposed to be used in food production, but suppliers in China have been found to mix it into some products to make them appear higher in volume (Associated Press). Remember the melamine dog food recalls?

Sanlu Bei Bei Infant Powder (the only brand found responsible at this point) isn’t a brand you may be familiar with.  In fact, the FDA is trying to reassure those who purchase formula from the major US distribution channels that the contaminated milk won’t be in anything we typically use.  But what about Chinese-Americans or others who may be inclined to purchase Chinese-made infant formula from ethnic grocery stores or other means?  The FDA is standing firm on its claim that any formula made in China be tossed immediately.

I’ll even go one step further.  Because of past scandals involving formula (including the 2004 arrests of Chinese infant manufacturers who were found guilty of providing infant formula with no nutritional value whatsoever), I would want to know more than just who made my formula. I would avoid buying even approved-brand formulas from any channel that is less than reputable.  This means you may want to avoid getting formula from places like Ebay, Craiglist, or garage sales unless you can guarantee it is in its original, sealed containers (and not a fake formula.)

At this point, it is still safe to buy any formula from approved U.S. distributors (including “Abbott Nutritionals, Mead Johnson Nutritionals, Nestle USA, PBM Nutritionals, and Solus Products LLC. Also, one manufacturer, SHS/Nutricia, Liverpool, England, markets an amino acid based exempt infant formula that does not contain any milk-derived ingredients.)  Store-brand formulas are OK, too.  Just be careful where you get it.  Retail outlets with a good reputation for offering authentic wares are still your best bet.

For the official press release regarding this alert, visit the FDA press release.  (For a new update regarding the Chinese milk recall, see this Bloomberg report.)

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15 discussions

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Guest's picture

Just a thought...

Maggie Wells's picture

Then you just have to monitor what you take in....there are of course organic formulas as well.

Margaret Garcia-Couoh

Guest's picture

for one thing.

Those responsible WILL have their "Heads Roll"...Literally and Without Question....unlike the US where the responsible management will just get a Smaller Bonus and a Golden Parachute on the way out the door to the Yacht in the Carribean or at most a "Naughty, Naughty" Slap on the Wrist and Probation with some Community Service from the Courts.

Guest's picture

Alexia, some women cannot produce milk, or some babies can't latch on. But I hear you...I prefer breast milk by far.

Guest's picture

Oh, I do understand -- I had to exclusively pump for my first. I know it's hard sometimes.

Guest's picture

We are humans- designed to nurse our offspring so that they have a chance at survival. The number of women that "cannot produce milk" (ie. 1%). And not all babies can just KNOW how to latch on. It's a learning process for both the mother and the infant. So your point is MOOT.

Guest's picture

It's a scary feeling to suddenly be physically unable to nurse a baby, and wonder what you are going to do. Thank heaven we have good infant formula availible here in the US, and if a parent does her (or his) research, then chances are pretty good that everything will be alright. I was quite amused to find during all of my research (and I spent weeks looking into everything to make sure I was giving my son the absolute best) to find that all milk-based, regular infant formulas (not the ones for babies with special digestive or health needs - I didn't check into those) are very close in their nutritional content, and made by one of four major manufactures. It took years for formula makers to get approval to add DHA and ARA because the FDA is so strict about making changes and testing with regards to formula. I appreciate the article, Lindsey! It is always reassuring to have a reliable source of information, like WiseBread.

Guest's picture

Who buys formula from Ebay? Craigslist? Garage sales? That's gross.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Certainly, if you choose to breastfeed, this isn't necessarily an issue. I say that without certainty, as I was one of those mothers who did nurse her infant, but found that it was necessary to supplement with formula due to a health issue in both the infant and myself.  I was grateful to be able to provide my son with the extra calories that he needed to grow healthy and strong!

Since this isn't a discussion on nursing vs. formula, I'll agree that this is a scary issue, because it affects infants on so many levels.  (Babies who have been adopted, sick infants, etc.)  They certainly didn't ask to have their only food source tainted by a poisonous "filler."

And to answer the commenter regarding Ebay, Craigslist, and garage sale:  Many people have purchased from these places (although it is always Buyer Beware.)  I can understand garage sales and Craigslist in my area, because it is a very small community and everyone knows everyone.  It's not unusual to see a mom with a few cans of brand new formula on her garage sale and see another mom who knows her personally.  The same goes for Craigslist sometimes.  I'm not sure of anyone who buys from Ebay, but I know people do, because I see listings all the time.

Your best bet would be to try to buy the infant formula coupons and use those to purchase your own formula from a reputable retailer.


Guest's picture

"...suppliers in China have been found to mix it into some products to make them appear higher in volume"

Actually - the Melamine is used to make the product appear richer in protein. This is done after watering it down to increase the volume.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Guest -

Thanks for clarifying that!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

if you go to www.naturalnews.com; & other natural sites you will see that infant babies formulas have included growth hormones, & other toxins including one just declared "safe" by the FDA which is in fact not; if you google infant mortality rates you will find that the USA has the #2 spot in the world & has had for years of infants deaths; unfortunately the way the USA is run is by Corps: formaldehyde which is one of the most toxic to humans & animals on the planet is used in Johnson & Johnson's baby shampoo; asparteme was approved by the FDA & it contains formaldehyde which turns is unleashed 15 minutes after drinking it causing all kinds of medical problems & death. The chemical companies do this cuz their sister company the Pharma gets 600,000 x's the cost of meds: all with Congress's full knowledge & FDA as well. Rumsfeld (prev Dept of Defense) leader was behind getting asparteme approved; one wonders if the FDA is so on the ball why are they NOT putting field workers in the fields to stop e coli & salmonella; or telling people that the simple spraying of 3% hydrogen peroxide & vinegar in seperate spray bottles is far stronger & more effective & kills both e coli & salmonella as well as a host of other nasties: than any other toxin made including clorine? if for no other reason than it doesn't make them big $ for the chemical companies or the doctors who get paid to meet quotas of prescriptions. THIS is the way the USA works people. It is not for the people at all: it is for Corps; and saddest of all: even if you have health coverage per federal law it stops once you are ill. Because the big insurance companies do NOT have to cover anything if it effects their profits.

Guest's picture

Baby formula saves lives and safely nourishes most infants at one point or another. Our infant mortality rates have NOTHING to do with infant formula. It was invented to save lives. Our neonate mortality rate is excellent in hospital births. It is 3 times higher in Home births. Breastfeeding is fine but definatley not for everyone. I am Sooo sick of hearing about the evils of Formula feeding infants. Get over your boobs lady. Many many children are saved by eating formula because not everyone can BF. A cranky tired mom with sore nipples is not going to be a really happy mother. Many women are guilted into Breastfeed and the bullying needs to stop NOW!!!!!
Baby Formula manufactured in the USA Is carefully regulated by the FDA.
This is not China or some 3rd world country. Most babies who get sick from formula are in the Sub Sahara, not the US.

Guest's picture

The Chinese did execute their FDA lead last year: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18911849/

However, corruption is still pretty rampant. I am sure some more people will be executed in this incident, and they probably deserve it. In America if this happens whoever involved will just get their high powered lawyer to get them out of it.

Guest's picture

I have to concur with the posters who said that the best way to avoid the problem of contaminated formula is to breastfeed, if at all possible.

My little guy stopped nursing at 2 months for various reasons, but I was fortunate that I was able to pump till he was 1 year old and could be switched to cow's milk. I was also blessed with a tremendous supply and was able to donate extra breastmilk to a couple of moms I knew whose supply was insufficient. I'm pregnant again, and I hope that if I have supply issues with this baby (or future ones), that other moms will in turn be generous with me.

We really need to work to make the U.S. a culture of breastfeeding. We need to protect moms' rights to nurse their babies and to pump at work. Nothing that comes out of a chemical factory can ever hope to reproduce the (free!) food that babies are intended to eat.