Patti Rundall, OBE, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action says: "This shows the danger of industry involvement in public health research: instead of people being alerted to the role breastmilk substitutes have played - and are still playing - in the obesity epidemic, they are being told a 'closer to breastmilk' formula is on the way. We are expected to forget they new formulas, touted as 'closer to breastmilk,' appear every 6 months or so. While all health bodies want formulas to be less harmful, no one should pretend or imply that these products are in any way equivalent to breastmilk - a living, constantly changing product that is impossible to match and which provides optimal, unique, perfectly balanced and safe nutrition for babies.
One has to ask - should public health research funds be used to promote artificial feeding of babies? If there were no industry involvement and the formula used in the studies had been paid for at market prices, the Press Release might have highlighted the harm being caused by existing formulas, and stressed the countless other known risks which will persist even with this new lower protein composition. " (3)
Baby Milk Action has lodged complaints to the European Commission about the lack of transparency of the Coordinator of the studies, Prof Bert Koletzsko and his failure to acknowledge the conflict of interest in the Danone and Nestlé involvement. Prof Koletzsko, former Chair of the European Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN), has had a big influence on policy setting in Europe and globally. While he has lobbied for changes in the composition of formulas, he has consistently failed to address marketing issues and did not join other health professional bodies who were calling for European legislation to ban the use of health claims on foods for infants and young children, such as the UK Government's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) which said: "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. To do otherwise is not in the best interests of children, and fails to recognise the crucial distinction between these products and other foods."(4)
The consequence was that EU legislation serious loopholes which allow - among other things - several health and nutrition claims. Baby food companies exploit these loopholes to the full and are highly likely use them to promote the new formulas.
Baby Milk Action is the Secretariat of the Baby Feeding Law Group (BFLG), which represents 24 health, union and mother support organisations, such as the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal Colleges of Midwives and Nursing and UNISON. BFLG has campaigned for a tightening of the legislation in line with the recommendations adopted at the World Health Assembly and specifically for a ban on health and nutrition claims on all foods for infants and young children. (5)
For more information contact: Patti Rundall on +44 (0) 7786 523493 or Mike Brady : + 44 (0)7986 736179
1 EARNEST is funded under the Food Quality and Safety Priority of the Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Technical Development of the European Community (FOOD-CT-2005-007036). The EU is contributing 13.4 million euros towards a total cost of 16.5 million euros The project will run from 2005 to 2010 and is being coordinated by Professor Koletzko of the Children's Hospital, University of Munich, Germany.
The EARNEST website states: Bledina, a French infant formula producer, will produce the formula to be tested. Groupe Danone contributes to the project through the expertise of its Research Center Danone Vitapole. Moreover, the Danone Institutes, non-profit scientific associations in 7 European Countries will contribute to the dissemination of the knowledge and will allow the follow up to the project. This research program belongs to the "Infant Nutrition Cluster". http://www.metabolic-programming.org/obesity/partners.htm
The website also lists the companies sponsoring the Congress including, Nestle Nutrition, Danone and Abbott Nutrition Health Institute,
Nestlé’s share of the global baby milk and baby food market is cited as 26% following its takeover of Gerber, with Danone in second place on 14% following its takeover of the NUMICO brands (Nutricia, Milupa/Aptamil, Cow & Gate). Euromonitor International http://info.babymilkaction.org/update/update42page6
2 Baby Milk Action's Infant feeding and Obesity Poster summarises some of the research, including the fact that “Artificially fed infants consume 30,000 more calories than breastfed infants by 8 months of age” (equivalent to 120 chocolate bars - 4 a week). Student Study Guide for Breastfeeding and Human Lactation KG Auerbach, J Riordan - 1993 and that the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considered that there are two potential, cost-effective interventions that can be put into place immediately to deal with the childhood obesity epidemic: decreased television viewing and breastfeeding promotion.
3 The potential for bias is present in all research. However, it is reduced if research is funded by a disinterested party rather than one active in the market. Research on infant and young child feeding which forms the basis for public health policies should be free from commercial influence and the European Commission and other funding bodies should provide 100% funding for research in this specific, and quite well-defined area. This would help guarantee optimal levels of health protection and would improve public trust.
5 Companies currently target parents with health and nutrition claims which are very misleading and do not stand up to scrutiny. The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled against Danone's claim in an advertisement that Aptamil formula 'supports your baby's natural immune system' (left), but this claim continues to be used on follow-on formula labels. See:
6 Further comments on industry funding of pediatricians can be found on these links: