Health bodies call for moratorium on EU health and nutrition claims on baby foods

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STOP PRESS: EU Committee approves follow-on milk claim

 STOP PRESS: The EU Committee that met in a closed meeting on the 6th December APPROVED the claim that DHA improves eyesight for use on follow-on milks and baby foods.  We believe that it is  false  and misleading to allow such a claim on follow-on milks.

 Members of the European Parliament and the European Council now have 3 months to comment.  Please contact your local MEP and asked them to stop this claim being approved.

Health bodies call for moratorium on EU health and nutrition claims on baby foods


3rd December 2010

A closed meeting in Brussels will take place on Monday 6th December where the European Commission and EU Member States are set to legitimise 4 health claims (1) used by companies to suggest that baby formulas, foods and supplements with added LCPs (Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids) can improve brain and eye development, despite a lack of independent scientific evidence and protestations from health experts such as the Baby Feeding Law Group. 

Baby Milk Action has said if adding synthetic LCPs were proven to reduce the health risks of formula feeding compared to breastfeeding, they should be added to all formulas, instead of used to promote formula sales.  The 4 claims are already in widespread use as a key way of idealising formula, despite the fact that an influential review of studies on LCPs in formula has found ‘no proven benefit’ for adding the ingredients, and the industry has been lobbying hard for the European Commission to back them. 

The Baby Feeding Law Group (BFLG)  a coalition of 24 health professional and lay organisations, including the Royal Colleges of Paediatrics, Nursing and Midwifery is calling on the  EU Commission and Parliament  to ensure that no health or nutrition claims are permitted on  foods for infants and young children,  stating that a   dangerous precedent will be set if  these highly promotional claims are authorised.  Parents in the EU and wherever these products are exported will be misled. The BFLG is working to ensure that ALL  parents -  those who breastfeed and those who decide to use processed  formulas and foods- should do so on the basis of truly objective information.  


[Left: The industry is attempting to legitimise misleading advertising like this from a website - add LCPs and the fuzzy duck comes into focus. You wouldn't know if from this advertisement, but research has shown that infants who are not breastfed have poorer neurological and eye development than breastfed babies. Companies promote their products with added LCPs as if babies benefit from being fed on it. Just two synthesised LCPs inspired by the many found naturally in breastmilk that are believed to play a role in brain and eye development are added, but there is 'no proven benefit' adding these processed ingredients to the different environment of formula impacts on its shortcomings].

LACK OF TRANSPARENCY: The 4 claims in question have been under discussion for over a year because of Member States concerns.  The BFLG is now calling for  a moratorium on all decisions regarding claims on foods for infants and young children until the  outdated procedures for handling baby food legislation is changed, and for the procedures to be transparent, accountable  and democratic.   

In 1989 a  PARNUTs Framework Directive transferred  the power to initiate and finalize legislation on baby foods and specialised foods to the Commission. Parliament no longer had to be consulted and discussions could take place behind closed doors. (2) However, because claims also fall under the European Nutrition and Health Claims Regulations (1924/2006) there is a clash, and the final decision on these particular claims may require the consent of MEPs.   

    The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)  is not required to look at 'risk' in relation to claims or to look at independently funded science. EFSA reached its opinions on the basis of 'proprietary information' provided by companies that is commercially secret and not open to public scrutiny.

Patti Rundall OBE, Policy Director at Baby Milk Action, said: 

These claims are big business for baby food companies who use them to suggest their formula will make babies brainy, diverting attention from the fact that breastfed babies are proven to have better brain and eye development. While it is clear that new ingredients DO need to be added to formulas to address their inadequacies,  this should only be permitted if ingredients  are proven to be safe and essential, through an independent systematic review of research which  includes a substantial proportion of independently funded research.  The ingredient must  then be mandatory in all formulas - not added as an optional ingredient to some formulas and promoted with a claim (3).

Dr. Colin Michie, Chair of Nutrition, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health supports breast feeding as the optimal way to feed an infant. Its totally inappropriate for infant formulas or  follow on formulas to carry health or nutrition claims, which inevitably  imply a health advantage over breastfeeding.  Claims are especially problematic (or misleading) when independent and well respected bodies such as the Cochrane Library have found no evidence to support them. Since infants are a vulnerable group the safety of the ingredients is paramount, so additives should only be used if they have been demonstrated by an independent review of scientific data  to be  safe and essential. Then they should be added to ALL formulas - not promoted with a claim.  

In  2007 the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) stated: 

We find the case for labelling infant formula or follow on formula with health or nutrition claims entirely unsupportable. If an ingredient is unequivocally beneficial as demonstrated by independent review of scientific data it would be unethical to withhold it for commercial reasons. Rather it should be made a required ingredient of infant formula in order to reduce existing risks associated with artificial feeding.

The Cochrane Library reviewed has reviewed the research on LCPs and concluded:

It has been suggested that low levels of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) found in formula milk may contribute to lower IQ levels and vision skills in term infants. Some milk formulas with added LCPUFA are commercially available. This review found that feeding term infants with milk formula enriched with LCPUFA had no proven benefit regarding vision, cognition or physical growth.

Dr Ricardo Uauy, a world expert on fatty acids, from the London Sch. of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in June 2010:

The evidence for effectiveness of DHA addition to formula for term babies in terms of improved long-term mental development is weak at best ... until stronger data are available I would opt for a view that the effects of DHA on mental development are not sufficiently documented to establish public health policy.

DAMAGING INTERNATIONAL IMPACT:   All EU Member States have endorsed the WHA 2010 Resolution on Infant and Young Child Nutrition (63.23) which stressed the importance of breastfeeding in child survival and the harm caused by inappropriate marketing (3)  The lack of transparency and policy coherence between the EU policy and UN recommendations has prevented Member States  from carrying out their obligations  under the WHA Resolutions. This has had a profound damaging impact on health policy setting and practice in developing countries where these claims are rampant.

The EU has claimed that development is at the heart of its external action, and that the primary and overarching objective of its policy is the eradication of poverty in the context of sustainable development, including the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and respect for human rights. 

These principles will ring hollow if  these four claims are passed.  The claims will be  exported on packages and will be used by companies as evidence authenticity  in their lobby to weaken legislation in developing countries.  


FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:  Patti Rundall 07786 523493


(1) Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH)  agenda for 6th December 2010:

Agenda Item 6 

6. Exchange of views and possible opinion on a Draft Commission Regulation (EU) on the authorisation and refusal of authorisation of certain health claims made on foods and referring to children's development and health (SANCO/13017/2010) (10th batch, Art. 14 of Regulation (EC) N° 1924/2006) (Regulatory procedure with scrutiny of the European Parliament and of the Council). (CA)

The claims being discussed are as follows:

'ALA contributes to the brain development of children'

'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'

'DHA has a structural and functional role in the retina and maternal DHA intake contributes to the normal development of the eye of the foetus and breastfed infants' and 'DHA has a structural and functional role in the brain and maternal DHA intake contributes to the normal brain development of the foetus and breastfed infants'.

(2) Council Directive on Foodstuffs Intended for Particular Nutritional Uses (89/398/EEC)  (PARNUTS),  COMMISSION DIRECTIVE 2006/125/EC on processed cereal-based foods and baby foods for infants and young children See Time to Change the rules?:

(3) While the benefits of Long Chain Polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPs) in breastmilk are proven, the case for adding synthetic LCPs to the different environment of infant formula has not been. The case for adding LCPs to follow-on milks, which are part of a mixed diet, and then to make promotional claims is weaker still.   


Choosing a formula – what is the evidence for different milks and added ingredients? NCT New Digest July 2010

(4) When the ingredients behind the claims were first developed commercially in the 1990s, industry analysts said companies would add them to baby milks regardless of any benefit to suggest their formula was ‘closer to breastmilk’.   The Hambrecht & Quist Spot Report on the Martek Bio-sciences Corporation in 1996 said: “Even if Formulaide (DHA/AHA) had no benefit we think that it would be widely incorporated into most formulas as a marketing tool and to allow companies to promote their formula as ‘closest to human milk’.” 

(5)  The WHA 2010 Resolution on Infant and Young Child Nutrition (63.23) calls on Member States to “end to all forms of inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children and to ensure that nutrition and health claims shall not be permitted except where specifically provided for  in relevant Codex Alimentarius standards or national legislation”. It also  stated:  "the promotion of breast-milk substitutes and some commercial foods for infants and young children undermines progress in optimal infant and young child feeding.....inappropriate feeding practices and their consequences are major obstacles to attaining sustainable socioeconomic development and poverty reduction... the improvement of exclusive breastfeeding practices, adequate and timely complementary feeding, along with continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond, could save annually the lives of 1.5 million children under five years of age."  or   



See: Policy Blog for decision by the New Zealand ASA to uphold a complaint against Wyeth for S26 Lutien eye claim



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