EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) adopted a scientific opinion on the appropriate age for introduction of complementary feeding of infants on 22 December 2009.
The Panel found that there was no risk involved in weaning babies onto foods such as those that are cereal-based in the short-term, including infections, retarded or excessive weight gain, or possible long-term effects such as allergy and obesity.
A spokesperson for the EC Directorate General for Health and Consumers (DG Sanco) told BakeryandSnacks.com that the Commission will now analyse the opinion in detail and take measures if appropriate but that the EFSA opinion does not run counter to Article 8 of Directive 2006/125/EC which provides for the mandatory labelling on weaning foods: 'the stated age shall not be less than four months for any product'.
The Commission previously said that the background of its request to EFSA to determine an appropriate age for the inclusion of foods such as cereal based products into an infant’s diet was an inconsistency within the EU legislation.
Directive 2006/141/EC requires that labelling provisions concerning follow-on formula should state that it is suitable only for infants over the age of six months.
Another reason an EFSA opinion was sought was that EU legislation was at variance with the Codex Standard for processed cereal-based foods for infants and young children (Section 8.6.4) which states that 'The label shall indicate clearly from which age the product is recommended for use. This age shall not be less than 6 months for any product’.
The Codex Standard is based on recommendations made in the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding.
Health advocates predict a decline in breastfeeding if the EFSA opinion is translated into EU law, with UK breastfeeding campaign group, Baby Milk Action, claiming the labelling of cereal based and other baby foods as suitable from four months encourages the introduction of solid foods before the vast majority of babies are developmentally ready to eat family foods.
“Too early introduction of solids along with the high levels of sugar permitted in EU legislation contributes to the rising levels of childhood obesity,” argue the advocates.
Patti Rundall, policy director at the UK campaign group, said that before the UK adopted the WHO’s six month recommendation, the five-yearly UK Infant Feeding Survey shows that most babies were given solids far too early, before four months.
And she claims that the message to start solids from six months led to a postponement until the four to five months stage, which, according to Rundall, was an important behavioural shift in public health terms.
“If the EFSA opinion is used to inform policy one can expect a reversal of this positive trend,” added Rundall.