The tolerable daily intake (TDI) for melamine has been cut by 60 per cent after new research suggests the chemical may pose health risks at lower levels than previously thought, said EFSA.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announced the TDI for melamine has been reduced to 0.2 mg/kg bodyweight from its previous level of 0.5 mg/kg b.w. The body said the figure had been revised after analysis indicated the chemical could harm the kidneys at lower intake levels than formerly believed. This harmonises EFSA’s opinion with that of the World Health Organisation (WHO) delivered in 2008.
The EC asked the food safety watchdog to provide an opinion on melamine and structural analogues such as cyanuric acid, ammeline and ammelide in food and feed.
EFSA’s food contact material panel (CEF) said that exposure to melamine in the EU through foodstuffs is “generally below the TDI”. The Tolerable Daily Intake is the amount of a substance which can be consumed every day over the course of a lifetime without being expected to cause any adverse health effects.
All sources of exposure
However, the panel recommended that the EU limits for migration of melamine into food be reconsidered because food was not the only source of exposure. It identified melaware food contact materials – such as plastic cups and dishes – as a further source of exposure. Children were seen as having the highest exposure rates from this source – but the experts said this was generally below the TDI. The exception to this was in the conservative assessment (95th percentile) for children “who might be exposed to melamine levels slightly above the TDI”, said EFSA.
The panel recommended that the specific migration level (SML) for melamine from both food and food contact materials therefore be “reconsidered in the light of the TDI of 0.2 mg/kg b.w taking into account all sources of exposure”.
AN EFSA spokesman told FoodProductionDaily.com: “The TDI is set independently of the exposure assessment. In this opinion, the TDI was reduced to 0.2 mg/kg bodyweight as the toxicological analysis carried out by the CONTAM Panel suggested that melamine could cause adverse effects to the kidneys at lower doses than previously thought.”
But he stressed this did not mean that those exceeding the new or previous TDI would necessarily suffer adverse health affects because of the “significant safety margin” allowed by the body “to cover uncertainties in extrapolating findings from animal experiments to humans, as well as differences between individuals”.
The exposure assessment carried out by CEF Panel indicated that the reduced TDI of 0.2 mg/kg would only be exceeded in the “worst case” scenario considered, i.e. high level consumption among children of food containing relatively high levels of melamine.
“Due to the very cautious assumptions used in calculating this scenario, this was not considered to represent a safety concern,” he added.
The presence of melamine in food has become a significant food safety issue in recent years following a slew of incidents of food and animal feed adulterated with the chemical.