Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE) said it was disappointed that certain nutrients were deemed "unnecessary" in the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) recent draft opinion on infant formula.
However, the industry association said it welcomed the decision to recognise specific differences in nutritional requirements for infants aged 0-6 months compared to those over six months.
In April this year, EFSA published a draft scientific opinion on the essential composition of infant and follow-on formulae. As part of its contribution to a public consultation period for the draft, SNE said: “The differentiation between infant formula and follow-on formula may help to address the risk of inadequate intakes of iron after six months of age.”
Yet the group said: “EFSA has also recognised that infant formula and follow-on formula can evolve with respect to the use of new technologies and nutrients. It is therefore disappointing that EFSA has chosen to describe certain nutrients as ‘unnecessary’ rather than ‘optional’ as it is only through their inclusion in formula and subsequent research that their presence can be demonstrated to be beneficial.”
It also called for a harmonised European Union standard for young child formula.
The April review was requested by the European Commission last year, “in light of more recent evidence” released since EFSA's last opinion back in 2003.
The scientific opinion said there had been “no reports of any adverse effects associated with the use of formulae complying with the current specifications for micronutrients”.
Only the essentials
However, the EFSA Panel of Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) recommended that it was “not necessary” to add arachidonic acid (ARA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), chromium, taurine, nucleotides, non-digestible oligosaccharides, probiotics or synbiotics to infant and follow-on formula products, and for follow-on formula “the addition of l-carnitine, inositol and choline was not necessary”.
SNE said additional ingredients were always preceded by strict scientific review, and that what was classified as essential or optional may not be static. It said: “Advancements in science and research allow continuous improvements to formula composition, and ingredients considered ‘optional’ today may be regarded as essential in the future following continued clinical research.”
The SNE added that a current lack of harmonised standards for young child formula was problematic.
“SNE therefore calls upon the EFSA to provide guidance on the nutritional composition of young child formula, which, along with considerations of food safety and quality (among other regulatory considerations) would ensure that there is a minimum standard for these products in the EU within the framework of Regulation (EU) No. 609/2013 on Foods for Specific Groups,” it said.
It said within this there should be specific minimum levels of nutrients appropriate for young children laid out.
A realistic alternative?
SNE said it concurred with EFSA’s recognition of the specific category ‘young child formulae’. It said: “While young children can achieve a balanced diet by eating normal foods such as cow’s milk, the 2013 EFSA opinion demonstrated that across Europe the reality is that many children are unable to achieve a balanced diet with normal foods, and young child formulae represents one way to support those with inadequate intakes or at risk of inadequate status of nutrients.”