The Codex Alimentarius Committee will be meeting this week to debate setting a global limit for melamine levels in food.
The body, which is part of the World Health Organisation (WHO), will be debating the issue at its annual food safety summit to be held from 5-9 July in Geneva, Switzerland.
Codex has proposed setting the threshold for infant milk formula at 1mg/kg and liquid infant formula at 0.5mg/kg.
The standard setting group will further lay down a motion that its 130 members sign up to a general limit of 2.5mg/kg where its presence is both non-intentional and unavoidable.
Two exceptions to this general rule have been proposed by the European Union for levels of the chemical in food for human consumption. The first is where it can be proven that the level of melamine higher than 2.5 mg/kg is the consequence of authorised use of cyromazine as an insecticide. In this case, the melamine level should not exceed the level of the insecticide.
The second exemption is connected to migration from food contact materials that takes into account any nationally authorised migration limits, said Codex.
The purpose of the proposed limits is to protect the health of the consumer but also to differentiate intentional, illegal addition of melamine from melamine migration from certain food contact materials which contain the substance, Jorgen Schlundt WHO director of food safety told FoodProductionDaily.com.
The European Union-requested exemption on selected food contact materials covers such products as melaware, where the inclusion of melamine is intentional, legal and does not cause harmful health effects, he added.
The issue of melamine contamination in food made global headlines in 2008 when Chinese producers of milk powder were found to be routinely using the chemical as a substitute in their products – resulting in at least six deaths and the sickening of 300,000 people.
The limits, expected to be announced early Tuesday afternoon (6 July), will not be legally binding but countries can refuse entry to imports that do not meet these standards.