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Questions And Answers Regarding Melamine

1. What is the action level for melamine?

The action level for melamine established by the Health Ministry is 1 mg/kg for infant foods and 2.5 mg/kg for other foods. This action level will be reviewed from time to time based on scientific development and latest information.

Milk2. How much Melamine contaminated food would a person has to eat before they are exposed to health effect?

It is a non direct effect of melamine but the concentration of cyanuric acid leading to crystals. However, the health effects can be extrapolated based on animal studies. Data are available from animal feeding studies carried out in rats, mice and dogs. The main toxic effects of dietary exposure to melamine in rats and mice is stone formation based on oral feeding of 63 mg/kg body weight/day in a 13 week rat.

3. What would you advice people with a pre-existing kidney or other health problems?

People with pre-existing kidney problems or those who develop symptoms related to the urinary system can seek advice from doctors.

4. The New Zealand Food Safety Authority, when recalling White Rabbit Candy said the product contained sufficiently high levels of melamine which may in some individuals, cause health problems such as kidney stones (An Associated Press report from Beijing, Sept 25, quoting the deputy chief executive of the authority Sandra Daly). What actions have taken by Health Ministry to address the issue on melamine?

Based on consumption of infant formula contaminated with melamine in China, there is some indication to show that melamine can contribute towards kidney problems. With respect to the melamine issue, the Health Ministry would like to affirm that Malaysia does not import any milk or infant formula milk powder from China, and specifically the affected powdered milk which is produced by Sanlu Group.

This has been confirmed by the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) which is responsible for issuing import permits for importation of veterinary products including for milk and infant formula milk powder.

Malaysia also imports milk-based products from China. However, as one of the requirements on importation into Malaysia imposed by the DVS, following the outbreak of the foot and mouth disease in cows in China, these products are manufactured using milk sourced from Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands and United States.

As a precaution, the Health Ministry took immediate action by imposing ban of imports on infant formula through the Food Safety Information System of Malaysia (FoSIM) on 13th September 2008 when the issue of melamine was first reported in the media. This ban was extended to dairy products which were implicated on 19th September 2008 followed by all confection containing milk as an ingredient i.e. milk-based products on 22nd September 2008.

So far, sealing of imported products suspected of containing the tainted milk from China undertaken across the country has involved 780 products which amounts to RM769,424.90. The Health Ministry also conducts monitoring activities by taking samples to be tested on the presence of melamine.

Analysis of melamine for enforcement and monitoring purposes is conducted by Department of Chemistry under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, National Public Health Laboratory under the Health Ministry, Doping Centre under Universiti Sains Malaysia, and Universiti Malaya. To date, test results of 87 samples analyzed for melamine are found to be in compliance with the standard for melamine whist 3 samples are found to contravene the standard.

Over recent years, there has been an improvement in the level of safety and quality of foods in Malaysia. This is evident in the decrease of the contravention rate from 12.29% in 1998 to 4.8% in 2007 although there is an increase in the food samples tested. From the total number of contravention in 2007, 628 cases were convicted with a total fine amounting to RM 827,681.00 and two (2) cases of imprisonment. RM 1,708,439.08 was collected from 46,127 seizures.

In 2007, 153,766 consignments valued at RM 6,433,566,640.00 were inspected at entry points. A total 44,360 (28.8%) samples were taken for testing and 765 (1.7%) was found to contravene the Food Act 1983 and Food Regulations 1985. In 2007, imported food that contravened were recalled (6 products), destroyed (29 products), blacklisted (48 products) and 14 cases were prosecuted resulting in a fine totaling RM 34,800.00.

5. What would you advice families to do with the contaminated items they have had at home for some time-for example, if they purchased a pack of White Rabbit Candy last year, should they throw away the items or should they only discard items purchased in the last three months?

Yes, families are advised to discard and throw away the contaminated items.

6. What advice would you give to parents about feeding children dairy based sweets, chocolates and biscuits/snacks which may contain milk from China?

As a temporary measure, parents and guardian are advised not to feed their children with dairy based products and confection including sweets and biscuits from China, and to keep updated with the latest information from the Health Ministry on food contaminated with melamine.

Consumers are advised to always read labels on food products being making any purchase. If in doubt, consumers can contact the Food Safety and Quality Division, Health Ministry at its hotline 03- 88833655 / 88833503 / 88833500 / 88833652 and website (http://fsq.moh.gov.my).

7. What would you advice when buying fresh fruits and vegetables from the market or in cases where the source is not labeled?

Consumers should practice healthy eating including eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Consumers are advised to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly especially if eaten raw.

At the same time, the Health Ministry is monitoring fruits and vegetables in the market whether locally produced or imported to ensure that it complies with the Food Act 1983 and Food Regulations 1985.

8. Under current legislation, what information is a food manufacturer obliged to disclose on the packaging?

Under Regulation 11 of the Food Regulations 1985, the information to be disclosed on the packaging are as follows:-
a) The appropriate designation or description of the food containing the common name of its principal ingredients;
b) The word “mixed” or “blended” conjoined with the appropriate designation of the food for mixed or blended food;
c) The words “CONTAINS (beef, pork; lard)” where the food contains beef, pork or lard;
d) The words “CONTAINS ALCOHOL” where the food contains added alcohol;
e) The name of the ingredients other than water, where the food consists of two or more ingredients;
f) The common name of animal or vegetable from which fat or oil is derived from for food containing edible fat or edible oil;
g) A statement in the form “contains permitted (state the type of the relevant food additive)” for foods containing additive;
h) The minimum net weight or volume or number of the content of the package;
i) A statement of the minimum drained weight of the food for food packed in liquid;
j) For locally produced food, the name and business address of the manufacturer or packer, or the owner of the rights of manufacture or packing or the agent of any of them. For imported food, the name and business address of the manufacturer or packer, or the owner of the rights of manufacture or packing or the agent of any of them and the name of the country of origin of the food;
k) Date-marking (for specific foods as in the Fifth Schedule of the Food Regulations 1985); and
l) The common name of the animal, where the ingredients or the food additives are derived from animal.

9. Is there any requirement for them to indicate the source of any of the ingredients? If there isn’t shouldn’t Malaysia be looking into introducing such as rule?

Currently, there is a requirement to indicate the source, that is the common name of the animal or plant of fat or oil, and the common name of the animal where the food additives are derived from animal.

10. What is the rule on food products that carry health claims (curing highblood pressure etc)? Are they regulated and how so?

Regulation 18(6) of the Food Regulations 1985 does not permit health claims on food labels. Health claims are claims which suggest or imply a relationship between a food and health condition or claims which describes the suitability of a food for use in the prevention, alleviation, treatment or cure of a disease, disorder or particular physiological condition.

11. Is there a central agency that looks at food safety from farm to table in Malaysia? If not could you tell us which government agencies share this responsibilities and what areas they cover?

Various government Ministries and Departments are responsible for administering and regulating food safety along the food chaincontinuum.

At the primary production level, the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry through the various legislations is responsible for:-
• the registration and approval for use of agricultural inputs such as pesticides;
• the promotion of good farming practices such as Good Agriculture Practice (GAP), Good Aquaculture Practice (GAqP) and Good Animal Husbandry Practice (GAHP);
• food-animal-disease control;
• hygienic practices in abattoirs, milk produced in farms; and
• inspection and certification of imported meat/fish; and
• inspection and certification of meat/fish for export

While the registration and approval of veterinary drugs is under the Health Ministry. At the processing and retail levels, the Health Ministry ensures food safety and protects consumers against fraud in the preparation and sale of food through the Food Act 1983 and the Food Regulations 1985.

Import control programmes are to ensure safe and quality food supply. The DVS controls import of meat, poultry, eggs, milk and their products for human consumption as well as the animal’s health.

The DVS also facilitates export of animal products in accordance to requirements of importing countries. Similarly, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Fisheries control the importation of fresh fruits and vegetables, and fish and fishery products, vrespectively, at the entry points.

Food control systems require continuous re-examination and reevaluation to ensure substantial improvements in food safety systems. This is especially so where ensuring food safety is diverse with responsibilities spread over different ministries and departments and resources have to be optimised. Co-ordination and collaborations among these various agencies is imperative for an effective and efficient food safety programme.

The Health Ministry spearheaded the establishment of the National Food Safety and Nutrition Council in 2001 as the highest advisory body to the government on food safety and this Council is chaired by the Honourable Minister of Health. It provides a platform in enhancing national coherence; taking into consideration the need for a more integrated approach, reducing duplication of efforts and optimising available resources and expertise from both public and private sectors. The Council, which consists of relevant government agencies, industry and consumer representatives as well as other stakeholders from farm to table, set clear policies and strategies for the continuous improvement of food safety.

12. We understand the FoSIM system of food safety monitoring may not cover all ports of entry into the country, is it true? How does it work and if this is true, do some food items come into the country without ever having been checked?

FoSIM is implemented at 38 entry points in the country. However, Health work closely with other government agencies such the Royal Malaysian Customs, DVS and others at entry points to ensure the safety and quality of food imported into the country.

FoSIM is a web-based information system to enhance the management of food safety surveillance in ensuring that the food sold in the country is safe for consumption. The system having interfaced with Customs Information System (SMK) allows importers/ agents and authorized officers at the entry points to manage food importation activities electronically using ICT. The information is transmitted electronically to the respective authorities and the food products are subjected to six (6) levels of examination, ranging from automatic clearance, document examination, monitoring examination, surveillance examination, hold, test and release and automatic rejection. Once the products are in the local market, the routine premises inspection and sampling will be undertaken.

13. The recent Auditor-General’s report said that Malaysia did not have early warning system in place for a food scare of this kind. When will the Ministry put one in place?

The Health Ministry is currently in the process of strengthening the food alert system. Amongst the measures taken are strengthening the food alert management in FoSIM, and procedures for food alert management.

14. Is melamine a compound that food is usually tested for? If not, for how long is testing of products for melamine expected to continue?

The Health Ministry carries out testing of foods both for enforcement and monitoring purposes. These testing includes physical, microbiological and chemicals such as food additives, chemical contaminants such as pesticide residues, veterinary drug residues and other parameters. The testing of chemical contaminants has been extended to include melamine.

15. Since milk is used in the making of a host of products, do we know if the melamine contamination is confined to food products or does it also extend to items like supplements like pro-biotics?

The Health Ministry is testing food products for melamine including milk-based products both for enforcement and monitoring purposes.

Issued by
Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr. Hj. Mohd Ismail Merican
Director-General of Health
Ministry of Health

Questions and Answers on melamine by World Health Organization.

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