MEPs call for stricter controls on the marketing and safety of milks baby milks and foods
Brussels, 20th December European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) debates the EU Commission proposals to revise PARNUTs Framework Directive (1)
The PARNUTs Directive discussed by the ENVI committee, has governed the EU's legislative process on baby foods for over 20 years. It has been a serious fault line in the policy making process that has allowed the EU Commission to put the needs of industry before its responsibility to protect public health without careful scrutiny from Parliament.
Baby Milk Action, IBFAN and the 23 members of the UK Baby Feeding Law Group and IBFAN have been calling for the revision of this Directive in favour of a more transparent and accountable process that would protect child health, bring EU controls into line with UN requirements, and ensure that all ingredients for foods for infants and young children are independently checked and approved for safety BEFORE being placed on the market. The health advocates argue that if an ingredient is essential and without risk it should be in all products. Currently companies are allowed to add ‘optional’ ingredients, “as the case may be" effectively using the open market to trial new ingredients which are then promoted with unsubstantiated claims. (for IBFAN comments see here)
The ENVI report, drawn up by the Liberal Belgian MEP and Rapporteur, Frédérique Ries, supported the campaigners main concerns, recommending the use of the Precautionary Principle: ".. industry and the vulnerable population groups that are the subject of this regulation should be afforded greater legal certainty. This must necessarily involve regular democratic scrutiny by Parliament of the definitions of foods intended for infants, children under the age of three and people with certain medical conditions, for whom a special diet is of vital importance, and of the rules governing the composition of such foods. This simplified but more protective legal framework must apply to imported and exported foods alike and makes it easier for the precautionary principle to be applied. If we are to expect the internal market to work properly, we cannot afford to disregard the health of the more vulnerable members of society.This simplified but more protective legal framework must apply to imported and exported foods alike and makes it easier for the precautionary principle to be applied. If we are to expect the internal market to work properly, we cannot afford to disregard the health of the more vulnerable members of society."
According to a report of the ENVI meeting in this week’s EU Food Policy many MEPs supported the ENVI report and called for it to go further, abandoning optional ingredients (Note 2) and toughening up the marketing of all baby milks and foods.
Basil Mathioudakis, spoke for the Commission (DGSANCO), and was questioned about a controversial new range of products for older babies called "growing up milks." There are many health concerns about these milks which are clearly designed to explout parents concerns about nutrition. A recent report from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) stated that these milks do not offer any advantage compared to reduced fat cow milk and are not necessart. (see Note 3 on milks for older babies)
Opinions are divided on the best way to handle these milks given that it may be impossible to ban them. However Basil Mathioudakis insisted that manufacturers need to submit a dossier to justify claims - such as 'growing up' 'toddlers' milk” that imply a particular benefit.
The centre right Dutch MEP Esther de Lange wanted to know what the consequence would be if this category of products was outside PARNUTS - in a legislative limbo. She said: “I do not want to ban them. If people want to pay high amounts of money ...that is fine, that is the market.” But she thought they could be covered by the general food laws health claim regulations.
The PARNUTS rapporteur Frederique Ries (ALDE/Liberal) said some wanted an Opinion from EFSA as to whether there was a nutritional value to these drinks or if they were just “a marketing ploy”. She suggested that some companies carry out “legislative shopping” - selecting the most advantagous pieces of legislation.
The Socialists and Greens wanted to impose advertising and marketing restrictions on "follow on" formulas and British Socialist Linda McAvan spoke on behalf of the Socialist shadow, Daciana Sarbu, who was not present. Mrs McAvan said that when she recently bought milk for her niece the situation was confusing and there was indirect advertising. She said that if an ingredient was considered beneficial to an infant it should be mandatory in all "follow on" formula and called for the deletion of the current system of optional ingredients.
Swedish Green MEP Carl Schylter, another shadow on PARNUTS and a vice chair of the Committee, also called for an advertising ban on follow-on milks. He said 'growing up' milk “is an absurd concept....it is cows’ milk with additives”.
Danish Socialist Christel Schaldemose also called for stricter rules on marketing of these products.
Mr Mathioudakis resisted calls for banning the promotion of "follow on" formulas arguing that the details of the individual directives could not be dealt with in the revision of the general framework. Mrs Ries also questioned whether the framework review was the right place to legislate on specific product marketing. But Mr Schlyter said this would be seen in the vote.
It is hard to see how the changes proposed by the Commission can be achieved without opening up the specific Directives.
The deadline for amendments is 18 January with a vote in Committee on 29 February. It is scheduled for a vote in plenary first reading on 17 April.
Note 1 Background to the Council Directive on Foodstuffs Intended for Particular Nutritional Uses (89/398/EEC) (PARNUTs) . During the 1980s the European Parliament three times rejected the EU Commission’s weak proposals for marketing of baby foods and demanded the implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes as a European Directive. Parliament also questioned the scientific basis for including follow-on formulas in the Directive. After a historic Parliamentary vote in 1986, the Commission changed the rules, and used a revised version of an old PARNUTs Directive to effectively transfer the power to initiate and finalize legislation on baby foods and specialised foods from Parliament to the European Commission - an unelected body. Parliament no longer had to be consulted and discussions could take place behind closed doors.
Note 2: UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) 2007: “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.”
Note 3: Milks for Older Babies
There is no proven medical or nutritional need for formulas to be marketed especially for older babies. After the age of 1 year, the milk recommended as part of a diet to ensure children grow and develop well is full fat cows milk, and there is no need for modified cows milk at this stage as the nutritional emphasis should be on food.
The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). 16.08.2011 formulas for babies over 1 year. " According to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), toddler milk does not, however, offer any advantage compared to reduced fat cow milk, as recommended by nutritional scientists for infants. "From a nutritional and physiological point of view these special toddler milks are not necessary", says BfR President Professor Dr. Andreas Hensel. Enriched vitamins and minerals in those products rather result in an uncontrolled increase in the supply of some nutrients whereas other vitamins and minerals are included in lower amounts than in cow milk. Furthermore, it is currently not sufficiently proven in scientific terms that a reduced protein supply in early childhood reduces the risk of obesity and adiposity during the later childhood. The fat content of toddler milk is more or less comparable to the content of whole milk and hence higher than the content in reduced fat milk.”
The German Consumer Association survey found that these miks (called Kindermilch) were up to four times more expensive than normal milk, costing parents up to 245 euros more each year and commonly had twice as much sugar as normal milk. http://www.vzhh.de/ernaehrung/129727/kostenfalle-kindermilch.asp
The Infant Formula Directive already permits a wide compositional range of nutrients that meet the requirement for formulas for older infants and young children and there is nothing to stop parents continuing to feed standard infant formulas throughout the first and second year if that is their choice.
Heavily fortified modified milks for children over the age of 1 year are generally not required, and there is no evidence that adding additional nutrients as supplements to diets is advantageous for children, and some evidence emerging that high intakes of iron in particualr are potentially harmful.
Iron-Fortified vs Low-Iron Infant Formula Developmental Outcome at 10 Years Betsy Lozoff, MD; Marcela Castillo, PhD; Katy M. Clark, MA; Julia B. Smith, EdD Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. Published online November 7, 2011. This study from Chile indicates that infants with high iron levels at 6 months, who were fed iron-fortified formulas had IQ levels 10 points lower at the age of 10 years than infants who had low-iron levels