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Questions and Answers with Julie Jones, PhD about Infant Formula and Melamine Content

January 22, 2009

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Julie Jones is a board certified and Licensed Nutritionist and received her B.S. degree from Iowa State University and her Ph.D. in Home Economics / Food Science and Nutrition from the University of Minnesota.  Currently, she is professor of nutrition in the Department of Family, Consumer and Nutritional Sciences at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, MN.

She regularly writes and speaks on consumer food safety issues, such as microbial food safety, irradiation, and pesticides; and health and nutrition related issues that affect women, such as dieting and body image.  For more than 10 years she was the North American editor for Food Safety and Security (an international newsletter published in Oxford, England), where she wrote a column on food biotechnology, additives, contaminants, and pesticides. 

Our interview with Dr. Jones regarding infant formula and melamine was conducted by Dani Schor, R.D., Senior Vice President for Food Safety at the International Food Information Council (IFIC) in Washington, DC.

Q: Dr. Jones, as a registered dietitian I recommend breast feeding, but we know it is not always possible or sometimes it’s just not practical. Parents may be wondering about the safety of infant formula after hearing news reports about levels of melamine in the formula.  What would you advise health care providers and parents?

A: Well, I think we always would say that if you can breastfeed, that this is the best option for babies.  But we know there are lots of cases where you can’t breastfeed exclusively or that for the health of the mother or the health of the infant or because of work conditions or just because of various other issues in a family; people want to use infant formula. And they can feel very confident that U.S. produced infant formula will provide a safe, nutritious alternative and they need not worry about melamine.

I have actually, personally advised my cousin and my niece, both of whom have babies, that they can feel perfectly comfortable about using U.S. produced infant formula.

Q: With the minute amounts of melamine found in infant formula, how did it get there?

A: Melamine is around us. It’s used in making plastic things. When I grew up, we had melamine plates, and it’s used in handles and plastic materials that might be in spoons and pot handles, that sort of thing, and in Formica. So it can leach (migrate) from material or from packaging into the infant formula. That’s how those very, very, barely detectable levels of melamine got into the formula.

Q: What kind of health problems can the melamine cause and what occurred in China?

A: Melamine can react with another chemical in the kidney to actually block the formation and the passage of urine. This then causes the kidney to shut down, but we are talking about levels of melamine that are ten thousand times greater than those seen here in the United States. Editor’s note:  In addition, there have been no such illnesses here in the U.S.  For more information, see:  Questions and Answers about Melamine as a Contaminant in Food.

For more information about melamine, please visit the IFIC web site for a Q & A and a link to additional resources. That’s


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