Willmott was part of a group of MEPs that submitted a motion to the EP to block the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Commission (EC)-approved claim.
While more voted in favour of the motion (328), than against it (323), 26 abstentions and 57 absentees meant the 368 vote absolute majority was not reached, and so the claim is set to soon be available on follow-on formulas aimed at babies between the ages of 6-12 months.
Infant formula versus follow-on formula
Willmott said she would now take the battle over whether enough safety and efficacy evidence exists for DHA (docosahexanenoic acid) claims on infant foods back the EC.
"Health claims are not allowed on normal infant formula milk out of concern that they could be misleading for parents,” she said.
“Many people don't even understand the difference between infant formula and follow-on formula. I will be writing to the European Commission to ask for a review of whether health claims on follow-on formula should be allowed."
She added: "Clearly it is a disappointment not to get the number of votes we needed, but this result still sends a strong message that there is deep unease about health claims of this sort.
"It is particularly worrying that the European Commission has seemed resistant to even consider the very valid concerns that have been raised by health and medical organisations.
"The food industry has been lobbying very hard on this claim, not just in the European Parliament over the last few weeks, but targeting the European Commission and scientific establishment for years.
But Basil Mathioudakis, the EC’s Unit Head of Food Law, Nutrition and Labelling, warned busy MEPs, “should be wary about challenging the opinions of EFSA.”
“On this occasion they have been bombarded with letters and lobbied intensely from both sides,” he observed.
Indeed some MEPs complained about the heavy-handed tactics lobbying tactics employed by both the DHA industry that was supporting infant formula maker Mead Johnson’s approved claim, along with those against the claim such as Baby Milk Action.
The omega-3 industry welcomed the vote, with Harry Rice, from the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) stating at the time:
“Anything less than that may have been the final blow to a system that has received constant criticism from the get go.”