Amendments to labelling, including the direct targeting of parents, are part of the measures designed to ensure that formulae meet all nutritional needs, without undermining the role of breastfeeding in nutrition. The proposals, set out by the British government's health department and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), are part of a wider European clampdown on how manufacturers of infant formulae can operate. The FSA is moving to enforce a 1997 update to the 1995 infant formula and follow-on formula regulations. The enforcement will come as a blow to manufacturers if the formulae who have been striving to replicate as closely as possible the nutritional content of natural breast milk so that babies that are not breastfed are not at a nutritional disadvantage.
The strategy has included the addition of omega-3 fatty acids, probiotic bacteria and, in some recent cases, probiotic fibres. According to the FSA, the UK government is committed to encouraging breastfeeding, though in situations where mothers are unable or decide against the practice, its aims to provide necessary information for an informed choice. To ensure these aims are met, a number of new proposals have been announced, including:
- New rules on labelling to suggest follow-on formula is only suitable for infants above six months of age from just four months previously.
- Under these new guidelines, only a small number of health and nutrition claims will be permitted on packaging for formula milk. Lactose only, lactose free, added long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCP), reduced risk of allergy to milk proteins and nutrition linked to nucleotides, taurine and oligosaccharides will be the only designations allowed.
- Further restrictions on marketing and promotion will outlaw directly advertising infant formula to new parents. Material that promotes a brand name over specific product will be outlawed.
- Advertising for follow-on formulas will also be effected, ensuring parents are made aware that the product is designed for older infants to prevent confusing the product with infant formula.
Guidance will also be provided for the industry and legislators to ensure new laws are fully complied with.
Promotional material for infant formulas will therefore not be able to feature text or images relating to pregnancy, including pictures of children under six months of age or images inciting a comparison to breast milk. Rosemary Hignett, the FSA's head of nutrition, said the measures were vital to ensure the industry was not endangering the health of mothers and their newborn children. "The guidance provides clear direction to industry on the action they must take in order to comply with the new regulations," she stated. "The new controls will provide the protection that mothers and babies need and deserve."
The advice was based on a public consultation that took place earlier this year, with a new 12-week consultation on the latest draft proposals beginning today.