19 September 2008The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) is assisting Chinese authorities with a melamine-contaminated powdered food crisis that has caused more than 6,000 cases of kidney stones in infants and three deaths across the country. Chinese health ministry officials have confirmed these cases are related to melamine-contaminated powdered formula consumed by the infants. WHO, the UN coordinating authority for health, has taken action in disseminating information on the situation to its Member States through the International Food Safety Authorities Network (IFOSAN). A chemical most commonly found in the form of white crystals, melamine can cause kidney stones when consumed, potentially stop the production of urine, lead to kidney failure and in some cases death. Following investigations carried out by China’s national inspection agency, 22 dairy manufacturers were found to have melamine in a number of different brands of powdered infant formula, in one brand of a frozen yoghurt dessert and in one brand of canned coffee drink. WHO has stated on their website that all these products were most probably manufactured using ingredients made from melamine-contaminated milk. While two of the companies exported products to Bangladesh, Burundi, Myanmar, Gabon and Yemen, contamination in the distributed products remains unconfirmed. A recall has however been issued from China and IFOSAN has specifically alerted the five countries importing the products. Last year a range of pet food manufactured in China and exported to the United States was similarly melamine-contaminated which caused the death of a large number of dogs and cats due to kidney failure. WHO remains in close communication with the Chinese health ministry to monitor the situation and assist with information dissemination.