UK blocks breast-similar claims on infant formulas

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Breast milk, Breastfeeding, Nutrition

A crackdown by the Food Standards Agency will bar infant formula
makers from making claims on products sold in the UK that draw on
their similarity to breast milk, to avoid misleading mothers.

The FSA is moving to enforce a 1997 update to the 1995 Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations. However it seems that there has been confusion over what claims are permitted under the annex, as according to a spokesperson for the FSA, an EU clarification was issued last year. The spokesperson stressed that no new law has come into play, but that the government agency and enforcement bodies are making sure that information on labels is compliant with EU legislaiton. Nonetheless, the enforcement will come as a blow to infant formula makers who have been striving to replicate as closely as possible the nutritional content of natural breast milk so that babies who cannot be breast fed - for whatever reason - 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. While these nutrients do occur in breast milk, Les Bailey, policy expert at LACORS told UK mainstream press that breast milk also contains beneficial antibodies that are not found in infant formula. Claims currently being made on products and marketing materials, which will have to be removed, include: "Now even closer to breast milk"​ and "Helps to support immunity"​ on packs of SMA Gold; "Closer than ever to breast milk"​ on Cow & Gate and Farley's products; and "Supports your baby's immune system"​ and "The closest to breast milk"​ on Aptamil First. The rules apply to products intended for use during the first four to six months of a baby's life. The aim, Bailey is quoted as saying, is to ensure that new mothers are not unduly influenced when deciding their feeding practices. "The legislation is framed in such a way that it doesn't matter whether they are correct or not. It is designed to promote breastfeeding." ​ The FSA spokesperson said that the government is not aiming to push breast feeding as the best course of action. "Obviously it is what is right for the parents or individuals," she said. The crackdown also comes in the context of new European legislation on health and nutrition claims on food products aimed at broader categories of consumers, which will come into force this year. The legislation is intended to create a level playing field for products making health claims across the bloc, and to ensure that any claims that are approved have the full weight of science to back them up. Recent research has given support to prebiotics' potential to support the immune system by stimulating the growth of beneficial probiotic bacterial in the gut. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids have also been linked to infant development. However such claims will either have to make it onto the European Food Standards Agency's list of well-established claims or to be assessed and approved on the basis of the evidence before they can be permitted on any food products. But Patti Rundell, policy director of Baby Milk Action, which is claiming a victory for its long-time campaign for a crackdown on infant formula claims, said: "A health or nutrition claim on any breast milk substitute is inappropriate and misleading… If a particular formula contains a new ingredient which has been proven -through independently funded and reviewed research - to be safe and useful then it should be a legal requirement in all formulas. All babies who are not breastfed should have the highest quality substitute. ​ Baby Milk Action would like to see parallel rules applied to advertising of follow-on formulas too.

Related topics: Ingredients, Nutritionals

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