EC prefers corporate profits to baby health: pressure group

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union European commission Infant

The European Commission (EC) has surrendered consumer production to business gain in discussions ahead of a key meeting today on revising the EC directive on baby milks and foods.

That’s the assertion of pressure group Baby Milk Action, which claimed the EC was putting “corporate profits before health”​ in recommending to an EU Council working group that specific safeguards are not implemented in discussions on directive 2009/39/EC.

Specifically, these relate to a ‘prior authorisation procedure’, supported by Baby Milk Action and other health groups, that foods for young children and infants should be independently checked and approved for safety before sale.

BMA said in a statement: “Many parents are unaware that the current rules allow the baby food industry to add any ingredients it chooses as the case may be, backed-up with only industry funded or reviewed science.”

Industry was effectively using the open market to trial new ingredients, which it then promoted with unsubstantiated claims, BMA argued.

Generally accepted science

BMA policy director Patti Rundall, OBE, told “The rules at present mean that they can just put something on the market, a follow-on milk say, even an infant formula and only when government asks it for a dossier, does it have to prove anything.

“Even then it only has to prove it according to whatever it wants really. It’s not saying ‘you’ve got to have this checked by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) or whatever, it’s just about ‘generally accepted science’.”

Although the EC recognised that prior authorisation would mean greater harmonisation, it said in a consultation paper on 2009/39/EC that it considered the move “disproportionate in terms of consumers’ protection and information”,​ and highly costly for the industry.

Rundall said: “I was shocked at how straightforward it was when I read the consultation paper, which said that it was going to be onerous on business. That’s clearly what it’s about.

"No-one minds people trying to boost and help businesses in the correct way, but when they’re pretending they care about health. That’s what I can’t stand.”

An EC spokesman told this publication he could not comment on the specific claims made by BMA, but said: “The European Commission never puts consumer safety at risk”.

'Very restrictive directive'

Another industry source said the 'prior authorisation' was only one option that the EC had chosen not to take forward, and that the safety of foods for infants and children was already legislated for aptly under a "very restrictive directive"​ recast as recently as 2006.

But the UK Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) also supports the pressure group’s position on pre-authorisation, and said in a statement this morning that it supported a “standard prior authorisation procedure".

"History has shown that consumer protection has not been strong, particularly with respect to the addition of ingredients to formula milks and follow-on milks,​" it added.

The BMA also argues that, if an ingredient is shown to be essential and without risk, then it should be included in all products, a position also supported by the RCPCH.

The latter wrote: “A prior authorisation system that provides independent analysis and review of the evidence of any benefits of new ingredients would be of considerable benefit to families purchasing these products.

"Ethically, any new ingredient found to be beneficial can therefore be incorporated into all such feeds rather than those from a single commercial source.”

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