The opinion marks another health claim win for trade group Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE), formerly IDACE, which has already secured nearly 20 similar extensions for vitamin and mineral claims.
EFSA’s panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) already approved a calcium bone health claims for children and adolescents.
Yet in its opinion this week it said: “The Panel considers that the role of calcium in the development of bones applies to all ages including infants and young children up to three years of age.”
If the claim is officially approved by the European Commission, it could go on to be used on follow-on infant formula products.
Commenting on one of the previously extended claims for under threes, UK-based nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton from Nutrition Communications said it would make formula manufacturers “feel more confident in making their own claims".
"It also gives public confidence in a claim where I don’t think we would have seen it in the past. Manufacturers have been anxious about making claims so hopefully the manufacturer’s improved confidence will mean claims get used more, and also used in the way they were originally intended,” she told NutraIngredients about the vitamin C claim adopted last year.
Sandra Einerhand, founder and consultant at Einerhand Science and Innovation and ex scientific programme director for Danone Nutricia, said the claim was “good news” for formula-fed infants and “great news” for the follow-on formula industry.
“Calcium is also naturally present in breast milk and so it also makes sense to add it to infant formula so that it mimics breast milk more closely.”
The opinion was also welcomed by its applicant SNE, which counts the likes of Nestlé-Wyeth, Danone-Nutricia, Abbott Nutrition and Mead Johnson as members via national trade association affiliates.
SNE was unable to comment in detail on this latest opinion but said previously that positive EFSA verdicts helped incentivise research for the infant nutrition industry and also demonstrated the importance of science and safety for the sector.
Call for claim ban
However breastmilk campaign group Baby Milk Action (IBFAN) was less pleased about the development.
Commenting on past claim approvals, IBFAN policy director Patti Rundall questioned whether the claims would be “exploited” by formula makers to “mislead the public”.
“Claims imply advantages over breastfeeding and bio-diverse, nutritious family foods that are not on sale cannot compete.”
Talking with us about the calcium claim, Rundall stood by the stance that there should be “no claims for mandatory or optional ingredients on any food or formula for infants and young children”.
Claims cannot be made on infant formula, but follow-on formulas or processed cereal-based foods and baby foods for older babies are not subject to the same legal restrictions.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends babies be breastfed for at least the first six months and promotion of infant formula is strictly prohibited in most countries.
However marketing of follow-on formulas intended for infants aged between six months and three years is less strictly controlled and often varies across regions.
18 extensions of claims already approved for adults have been okayed scientifically by EFSA so far:
- Calcium and normal development of bones ,adopted October 2016
- Vitamin E and protection from oxidative damage , adopted October 2016
- Iron and normal function of the immune system , adopted June 2016
- Vitamin C and immune system function , adopted November 2015
- Vitamin D and normal function of the immune system , adopted June 2015
- Niacin and normal energy-yielding metabolism , adopted June 2015
- Biotin and normal energy-yielding metabolism , adopted June 2015
- Selenium and protection of DNA, proteins and lipids from oxidative damage , adopted October 2014
- Zinc and normal function of the immune system , adopted April 2014
- Vitamin D and normal bone and tooth development , adopted February 2014
- Iodine and normal thyroid function , adopted January 2014
- Vitamin C and increased non haem iron absorption , adopted December 2013
- Iodine and normal cognitive development , adopted December 2013
- Iron and normal formation of haemoglobin and red blood cells , adopted December 2013
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2) and normal energy-yielding metabolism , adopted October 2013
- Pantothenic acid and normal energy-yielding metabolism , adopted October 2013
- Iron and normal cognitive development , adopted July 2013
- Magnesium and normal development of bone , adopted July 2013
- Vitamin A and normal function of the immune system , adopted July 2013