The ASA told to Milupa to remove claims stating Aptamil was the "best follow on milk", as well as claims about infant immune system benefits, because of a lack of supporting evidence.
The censure was welcomed by the pro-breastfeeding group, Baby Milk Action (BMA), which noted the ASA had not always been responsive to its assertions that many adverts breached guidelines.
But on this occasion, the ASA called in an expert in infant nutrition, who advised that the available evidence was not strong enough to back the claims.
This included a graphic illustration that implied Aptamil was better than follow-on formulas that did not contain prebiotics.
The ASA noted Milupa’s main evidence demonstrated, it could, “help lower the incidence of some allergic and infectious conditions in children with a history of allergy” when fed the formula from the age of 15 to 120 days.
But it said this was not enough to substantiate a claim that it was better than all follow-on formulas without prebiotics.
“Despite alerting the ASA to similar marketing in the past, there has not been a ruling on prebiotic infant formulas in the past so we welcome this decision,” BMA spokesperson Patti Rundall told NutraIngredients.com this morning.
“We expect that further advertising in this area will come under scrutiny now.”
Milupa, in its defence, said its patented formula, immunofortis, had been approved at European Commission level, and because it was the only one containing both prebiotics and nucleotides, was therefore superior to other follow-on formulas on the market.
It provided a table of ingredients and nutritional benefits to show why this was so, but the ASA said it was not substantive enough to back Milupa’s claim that its formula was the best.
The ASA noted the EC had called for further research into immunofortis, and the level of evidence Milupa had supplied was not sufficient.
“We noted the substantiation provided had not compared the immuno-supportive effective of Aptamil against its follow-on milk competitors and we concluded therefore that Milupa had not supported the comparative claim,” the ASA said.
The ASA concluded: “Given the expert’s concerns about the age of the infants in the new study and diet they received, we considered that the evidence was not sufficient to support the implied claims that Milupa follow-on milk available to the public would support all children's immune systems when used from six months onwards. We considered that the ad was therefore misleading.”
Immunity claims being made about another Nutricia brand, Cow & Gate, were challenged by the UK National Childbirth Trust, but not upheld by the ASA. However the ASA’s consultant said more robust evidence would needed to support future claims.
Nutricia is owned in turn by Danone.
BMA called for similar claims to be removed from product packaging and said it "remained to be seen" whether Danone's subsidiaries would do this.