With 328 votes in favour, 323 against and 26 abstentions, the motion by Glenis Willmott (S&D, UK) and others to ban the claim failed to gain the necessary level of support after weeks of intense lobbying by the likes of Baby Milk Action to have the claim de-authorised due to safety and efficacy concerns.
The vote means Mead Johnson’s claim: "DHA intake contributes to the normal visual development of infants up to 12 months of age" can now enter the EU legislature and be used on breast milk substitute products like follow-on formulas aimed at infants between the ages of 6-12 months.
Infant formulas aimed at 0-6 month-olds will not be able to carry the claims and must continue to contain statements about the superiority of breast feeding.
The omega-3 industry welcomed the vote, which it labeled a victory for European scientific methods.
“We are very happy to see the science, not the politics, prevail,” said Harry Rice, from the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED).
“Anything less than that may have been the final blow to a system that has received constant criticism from the get go.”
Patti Rundall OBE, policy director of Baby Milk Action, said:
“Authorisation of this claim hands the industry the marketing tool they desired - and brings the important process relating to health claims into disrepute. Although we lost today - the majority vote should have sent a really important signal to the Commission that the rules relating to infant foods are simply not good enough.
"If there really was evidence to support this claim, it should have triggered a review of the composition requirements to remove inferior formulas from the market.”
Cassie France-Kelly from leading DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) supplier Martek Biosciences was in Strasbourg for the EP vote and commented: “We are pleased that science, innovation and choice prevailed today.”
“The vote reinforced the scientific independence and credibility of the EU food safety and health claims system and was a positive outcome for parents who are entitled to relevant and scientifically validated information about the nutritional content and qualities of infant nutrition products.
This vote also emphasised the European Parliament’s support for companies who pursue important, science-based innovations that improve the health and nutrition of European consumers and fuel SME growth.”