Regulations published on maximum levels for Melamine in foodstuffs
17 February 2009
The regulations relating to maximum levels for melamine in foodstuffs have been published in the Government Gazette on 28 January 2009, by the Minister of Health in terms of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, 1972 (Act 54 of 1972). The regulations have been published as a draft and interested parties are invited to submit substantiated comments or representations on the contents to the Director-General (DG) of the Department of Health (DoH), for attention: Directorate: Food Control by not later than 28 April 2009.
The publication of the regulations is in response to the food safety incident that occurred during the second half of 2008 in China. The health of a large number of infants was affected by the consumption of dairy products manufactured from fresh milk intentionally contaminated with high levels of Melamine as a masking agent for the addition of water to the milk, by unscrupulous persons in China, which also resulted in a number of infant deaths.
South Africa was not directly affected by the incident that occurred in that country, as indicated through the analysis of a number of samples of foodstuffs containing dairy as an ingredient originating from China, of which only a sample of white rabbit sweets tested slightly above acceptable levels for melamine.
Through the monitoring and control measures applied by health authorities locally during that time, it was, however, discovered in November 2008 that some of the locally manufactured foodstuffs intended for infants and young children contained melamine slightly above the internationally accepted cut off levels. The cause of the contamination was established to be maize gluten originating from China used in the manufacturing of animal feed supplied to a small number of dairy farmers in a specific area in the country.
Although not a significant threat to public health, the levels found was above the internationally accepted levels for the presence of melamine in the foodstuffs in question and steps were taken as a precautionary measure, by the manufacturer and the health authorities to ensure the removal of the specific batches of the products concerned from the market place in South Africa.
Once finalised, the regulations will ensure that manufacturers and importers of foodstuffs in South Africa will have clarity on the legal limits set for the presence of Melamine in their products, It will also further strengthen the monitoring and control measures applied by the environmental health practitioners employed by the provinces for imported foodstuffs and by the metro and district municipalities for locally manufactured foodstuffs.
The draft regulations stipulates that any foodstuff containing Melamine at a level above one milligram per kilogram for foodstuffs intended for children under 36 months of age and foodstuffs for special dietary uses, and 2,5 milligram per kilogram for all other foodstuffs, are deemed to be contaminated, impure or adulterated.
Any melamine levels found in foodstuffs above these proposed legislated levels will constitute a criminal offence in terms of the Act if such foodstuffs are manufactured, sold or imported in South Africa. The mentioned levels are also in line with those set by a number of countries in their legislation, including Australia, Canada and the European Union (EU). It was further confirmed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the levels are adequate to ensure sufficient protection of the health of consumers, as confirmed by a meeting of experts convened by the WHO that took place in Canada in December 2008.
Further information as well as a copy of the draft regulations can be obtained from the Directorate: Food Control. The draft regulations are also available on the webpage of the Directorate at: http://www.doh.gov.za/department/dir_foodcontr-f.html