The final draft of the report sent to the European Parliament and the Council on young-child formulae – otherwise known as toddler formulae or growing up milk - comes as the EU prepares to replace the PARNUTs (foodstuff for particular nutritional uses) directive with the Foods for Specific Groups (FSG) regulation on 20 July 2016.
Young-child formulae placed on the market today as ‘dietetic foods’ will be classified as normal foods under the new arrangements.
There has been some disagreement on whether this should be the case and the European Parliament asked the Commission to produce a report to assess the need for special provisions for these products marketed at children aged one to three years.
Responding to the release of the report, trade groups Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE) and the European Dairy Association (EDA) said in a joint statement they were “deeply concerned” by the Commission’s failure to recognise this need.
SNE president Roger Clarke said: “The failure to regulate Young-Child Formula with specific rules at EU level may have unintended negative public health consequences, as these products will no longer be differentiated from other products for general consumers which are not necessarily designed to meet the specific nutritional needs of young children.”
The pair urged Parliament and Council to call upon the Commission to “take into account almost unanimous stakeholders’ call for the development of an appropriate legal scenario”.
SNE and EDA said failure to do so could mean young children are subject to adult nutrient reference values and the EU lags behind international efforts via the Codex Alimentarius to revise governance of these products.
Nutrient contents of products available on the EU market
Unlike infant formula (0-6 months) and follow-on formula (6-12 months), the composition and marketing of growing-up milk is not strictly controlled in the EU.
Patti Rundall, policy director of breastfeeding lobby group Baby Milk Action, said she was “really disappointed” by the report in its failure to address the marketing of products she called “risky”.
“These products are expensive, often high in sugar and their marketing undermines all the health messages governments are supposed now to be giving in relation to child health and childhood obesity.”
Rundall called upon guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which recommends all formulae for children up to the age of 36 months are subject to marketing restrictions of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.
She said young child formulae should not be able to carry promotional claims or contain sweeteners or flavourings as a basic standard. She said even the term 'growing up milk' should be considered an implied health claim.
The Commission’s report showed sucrose levels in growing up milks available in Europe ranged from a minimum of 0.6 g per 100 kcal up to 10.4 g per 100 kcal.
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) also urged legislative action, which it said would enable the regulation of product composition and restrict marketing practices used.
Meanwhile, soy trade association ENSA differed in its perspective, arguing horizontal rules under EU food law were sufficient and any special measures would force manufacturers of soy-based young-child formulae to reformulate.
A market snapshot
The report on 12 member states – representing 90% of the total 28-state EU population – found there are 244 different young-child formulae from 62 different companies available on the market.
According to the Spanish-based food research association AINIA, France accounted for the biggest chunk of these products (34), which is also the only member state to date with specific national rules on their composition.
Spain (32) and Germany (25) followed in the highest number of products, while there were no such products on the Danish market and only two in Sweden and three in Finland.
The same data showed the market for young-child formulae in these 12 EU member states was worth over €500 million in retail sales in 2012.