UK Green MEP Keith Taylor tabled three objections to the delegated acts – part of the Food for Specific Groups (FSG) regulation – in December, which will be voted on by the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) today (14th January).
If enough other ENVI members agree with Taylor’s concerns, the issues will be forwarded on for a full European Parliament plenary vote in Strasbourg next week and the draft – two years in the making – could go back to the drawing board.
Debating the objections in parliament, Taylor said the rules failed to uphold the International Code on infant and follow-on formula, which stipulated there should be no advertising or promotion of infant or follow-on formula.
The draft allows advertising and promotion of infant formula in specialist scientific and baby care publications, with scope for member states to restrict this. Meanwhile there are no such limitations on follow-on formula for older children and “no legal certainty” for member states that might want to apply their own restrictions.
Instead Taylor proposed infant formula promotion be prohibited completely and the specialist advertisement allowed for follow-on formula only, with member states reserving the right to tighten rules.
He also welcomed the ban of health claims on infant formula but said it was “outrageous” such claims be allowed on follow-on formula.
His objections also criticised the mandatory inclusion of DHA for which he said evidence was inconclusive as well as the sugar content of baby foods and formulas which he said could affect the developing taste preferences of children.
“Poor diet is now by far the biggest underlying cause of disease and death globally – bigger than tobacco, alcohol and physical inactivity. The allowed maximum sugar level should therefore be substantially lowered in line with WHO recommendations and the EU should be leading the way.”
Taylor faced intense criticism from French European People's Party (Christian Democrats) MEP Françoise Grossetête in December's debate, who accused him of "blaming women who don't breastfeed" and of being "extremist" in his stance.
Taylor stressed in his presentation that he recognised such formula products were a necessity and choice for many families.
“I simply want all parents and carers to be able to receive truly independent information and for them not to be misled into buying unnecessary or potentially risky products.”
He also called for a zero-tolerance approach to pesticides for baby foods and formulas due the vulnerability of the endocrine system of young children. Grossetête said this would be "impossible" to ensure for babies even if they were breastfed alone since residues could be passed on through mother's milk.
Meanwhile Danish Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats MEP, Christel Schaldemose, and French Europe of Nations and Freedom MEP, Sylvie Goddyn, expressed their partial support of the objections while Swedish Alliance of Liberals and Democrats MEP, Jasenko Selimovic, accused Taylor of political insincerity and unrealistic expectations.
You can see Taylor and the other MEPs debating the three objections HERE from 1:53.
Trade group Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE) says the objections could derail the result of two years of “intense discussions” between the European Commission, members state experts and stakeholders.
“I cannot predict the outcomes of this vote. But we would be very concerned if the ENVI Committee gives its support tomorrow to the objections,” SNE executive director Aurélie Perrichet told us.
Indeed in December's debate Italian European People's Party (Christian Democrats) MEP, Elisabetta Gardini, said listening to Taylor felt like “going back in time” as all the issues he raised had already been considered in the thorough two-year process leading up to the draft before them.
Perrichet predicted a vote in favour of the objections today and next week could mean years of additional negotiations.
SNE "strongly disagreed" with Taylor’s claim the draft delegated acts did not contain sufficient provisions to prevent unfair competition with breastfeeding and that it undermined the International Code for marketing breast-milk substitutes.
Ample provisions made?
Perrichet said within the overall FSG regulation and the delegated acts on infant and follow-on formula there were “ample provisions” to make sure formula feeding was not regarded superior or even equal to breastfeeding.
On sugar content, she said the composition laid down in the delegated act was in line with EFSA’s scientific opinion on the essential composition of infant and follow-on formulae published in 2014.
“Carbohydrates are essential for infants and young children as a source of energy supporting normal growth and development.
“For infant and follow-on formulae, the milk sugar lactose is the major carbohydrate in both breast milk and formulae. Infant formulae provides sugar in the form of lactose in amounts similar to breast milk,” she said.
SNE says the texts in their current forms are a “good compromise” between parties, which would ensure a high level of food safety and guarantee a strong level of protection for the vulnerable consumers across Europe who require paediatric and medical nutrition products.
She added the draft regulation had taken into account the mandate received from the European Parliament and the Council during FSG negotiations.
“SNE hopes that these draft texts will be supported by MEPs this week, in order to ensure that better consumer protection will be offered for these products as soon as possible.”
NGO Baby Milk Action has backed Taylors calls for tougher rules.
Citing raising obesity levels, policy director Patti Rundall, said: “Parliament now has a golden opportunity to do something significant to address this problem. The only logic in waiting is that it would please the industry.”
Read about how the vote went HERE.