The FDA’s trust problem

This is interesting:

Two months ago, federal food regulators said they were unable to set a safety threshold for the industrial chemical melamine in baby formula. Now, however, they found a way to settle on a standard that allows for higher levels than those found in U.S.-made batches of the product.

Food and Drug Administration officials on Friday set a threshold of 1 part per million of melamine in formula, provided a related chemical is not present. They insisted the formulas are safe.

The development comes days after The Associated Press reported that FDA tests found traces of melamine in the infant formula of one major U.S. manufacturer and cyanuric acid, a chemical relative, in the formula of a second major maker. The contaminated samples, which both measured at levels below the new standard, were analyzed several weeks ago…

Dr. Stephen Sundlof, the FDA’s director of food safety, said Friday the agency was confident in the 1 part per million level for either of the chemicals alone, even though there have been no new scientific studies since October that would give regulators more safety data. He had no ready explanation for why the level was not set earlier…

Those three formula makers manufacture more than 90 percent of all infant formula produced in the United States.

The agency had left the impression of a zero tolerance on Oct. 3 when it stated: “FDA is currently unable to establish any level of melamine and melamine-related compounds in infant formula that does not raise public health concerns.”

I have no reason to think that this is a bad decision, but it’s certainly a telling one. Two months ago the FDA had zero tolerance for melamine in formula. Then as soon it’s revealed that formula from major corporate producers contains melamine they adjust the standard with no new scientific study. Contrast this with the agency’s current crackdown on small raw milk farmers and it’s easy to see why natural food advocates are so skeptical of FDA warnings about unpasteurized dairy.

[Hat tip to Seth Roberts.]