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EFSA should review ’growing up’ milks before regulations change, says EU infant foods group

By Shane Starling , 12-Jan-2012
Last updated on 17-Jan-2012 at 13:00 GMT

Growing up: Best with normal or fortified milk? The jury is out
Growing up: Best with normal or fortified milk? The jury is out

The European Union should put the brakes on any mooted changes to rules governing milks targeting 1-3 year olds until a scientific review can be conducted, according to the EU group that represents infant food makers.

With the controversial category under discussion at European Commission and European Council committees and working groups, Roger Clarke, of the European Dietetic Food Industry Association (IDACE), said an objective review of the science and benefits of the products was required before any real progress could be made.

Clarke called on the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to perform such a review and praised his industry’s openness on a sensitive and highly politicised issue where milk-based drinks for children produced by his group’s members are often vilified by breast milk and natural milk advocates such as Baby Milk Action (BMA) in the UK on safety or efficacy grounds.

“We have been very transparent about this,” Clarke told NutraIngredients this morning. “There are paediatricians who say that the jury is out on which products are the best for children between 12 and 36 months.”

“The safety of these products is not in doubt. These products are perfectly safe for infants aged 12 to 36 months: The question is- whether or not these products are necessary for this age group. A comprehensive EFSA review should consider this point, in addition to what the implications would be if these products would be moved to general food legislation - and hence subject to adult limits for heavy metal content, etc."

"If the European Parliament is not sure about these issues, decisions should be deferred until a review can be carried out. The EC would not be averse to demanding such a review.”

Whether that will occur, or how long it might take, was anybody’s guess, Clarke said.

Only then may Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) like Swedish Green Carl Schylter, who sat on a PARNUTS ENVI (Environment, Public Health and Food Safety) committee, be better placed to change a current view that children’s milks are, “an absurd concept...it is cows’ milk with additives”.

Groups like BMA and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) would be similarly interested in such a review which industry would like to see validate its assertion that the addition of nutrients like vitamin D to milks aimed at 1-3 year olds can boost bone development, as one example.

Category critics point to a review of the category conducted by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) last year. At the time BfR president, Dr Andreas Hensel said: "From a nutritional and physiological point of view these special toddler milks are not necessary.”

Typically the milks contain additional vitamins, minerals and fatty acids and reduced protein (to battle childhood overweight and obesity).

PARNUTS reform

Any potential changes are part of broader amendments to the EU PARNUTS (Foods for particular nutritional purposes) Directive that has governed specialty foods like infant drinks and foods in the EU since 1977, and Clarke said ‘children’s milk’ was just one of 60 or 70 potential areas of regulatory reform that deserved equal attention.

Other equally important issues include how gluten-free foods, sports foods, slimming foods, and foods for sick infants will be regulated in the wake of the dismantling of PARNUTS.

It is likely sports and slimming foods will be required to validate their claims under the nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR), and Clarke said children’s milks may have to submit dossiers to back claims too.

“This is as it should be. Let EFSA decide if the scientific justification is there,” Clarke said, adding IDACE, and the British Specialist Nutrition Association he is director general of, would prefer to see the category regulated under new “complementary foods” rules being drawn up, rather than infant formula and follow-on formula directives that prevent almost all marketing in the EU.

“But we are not concerned about this and are happy to submit to whatever regulation is deemed relevant,” he said.

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