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European Parliamentary Labour Party

Press Release

27 January 2011

For Immediate Release


An attempt by a formula baby milk manufacturer to market its products with a specific claim about improving a baby's eyesight is being formally challenged by a Labour MEP.

The claim, that milk containing a fatty acid called DHA will improve children's eyesight, has been formally approved by an EU committee that has the power to block or authorise claims that a particular food has health benefits.

Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour's leader in the European Parliament and the party's European spokesperson on food safety, explained:

"It is clear that there are concerns about the scientific evidence that would support a claim like this. We simply don't know enough about how DHA functions when delivered via the bottle.

"If this particular fatty acid is really proven to be beneficial to babies' health when used in formula milk then we owe it to mothers and their children to ensure it is included in all products. If the link hasn't been proven, then companies shouldn't be allowed to make this claim."

The decision to authorise the eyesight claim was taken by the EU Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health in a meeting behind closed doors in December.

However, Euro-MPs can overturn their conclusions and Glenis Willmott has formally lodged her intention to challenge the decision ahead of a 3 February deadline.

She is demanding that the parliament authorities now instigate a full debate in the European Parliament's environment and public health committee and hold a final vote that will need to be taken by 7 April. An absolute majority of the parliament's 736 MEPs will be needed to challenge the committee's decision.

Glenis Willmott added: "The European Parliament delegated the power to make these decisions to a specialist committee, but most of the work done under the health claims legislation focuses on foods for adult consumption.

"Baby milk is a very special product and this decision has been taken without public scrutiny. I want to have a proper debate about whether this kind of claim is appropriate and I want to have that debate in public.

"This is separate from the whole "breast is best" debate. I recognise that there are clear benefits to a child's development in breast feeding, but in this case I want to ensure that parents who choose to bottle feed can be confident that manufacturers have parents and their children's best interests at heart.

"I am sure that milk manufacturers will be gearing up for a big battle on this issue but our children's health is too important to be left in the hands of a multinational company's marketing department."




DHA (docosahexanenoic acid) is found in small amounts in breast milk and is known to be important in the development of infants' retinas. However, there is no consistent independent evidence that the synthesised version of DHA used in formula milk, different to that found in breast milk, is beneficial for the visual development of infants. 

A number of other claims relating to baby milk have been rejected by the EU Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health, but the following claim by US-based manufacturer Mead    Johnson was approved at a meeting on 6 December: "DHA has a structural and functional role in the retina and DHA intake contributes to the visual development of infants up to 12 months of age."

The committee is made up of experts from each EU country. They have the power to decide on whether health claims used in the marketing of food and drinks could result in the public being misled.

The committee meets in private and while summaries of the meetings are published, it is not possible to see what positions different national delegations have taken. The summary of the 6 December meeting in question can be found at:

Glenis Willmott has written to the chair of the European Parliament's committee on environment, public health and food safety to call for a full debate by MEPs. After the 3 February senior MEPs on the committee will meet to consider the request and set a timetable for the discussion and vote.

For more information or to request an interview with Glenis Willmott MEP, contact Stephen Pearse on 0032 479 790053.


press coverage: 

The Independent:  MEP questions baby milk eyesight claim  By Geoff Meade, PA  Friday, 28 January 2011


Nutra-ingredients: MEPs question omega-3 baby milk benefits  By Shane Starling, 31-Jan-2011