Industry responds to revised standards for follow-up formula

By Olivia Brown

- Last updated on GMT

© vovashevchuk / Getty Images
© vovashevchuk / Getty Images

Related tags Regulation Milk Infant formula Nutrition

The industry has celebrated the revision of the Codex Standard for Follow-up Formula which brings tighter standards into place, but a baby milk action group questions the allowance of additives and sweet flavours.

The adoption which has been renamed to ‘The Standard for Follow-up Formula for Older Infants and Product for Young Children’, was finalised on 28th​ November, following Codex Alimentarius Commission meetings held in Rome at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) headquarters this week.

The revision​ is intended to ensure that follow-up formula available for older infants aged 6-13 months will support growth and development, whilst products for young children aged 12-26 months meets their requirements. This has involved the reduction of energy requirements to 60-70 kcal/100ml and protein requirements to a minimum of 1.8g/100kcal for young children, whilst fine-tuning lipid levels and establishing maximum limits for available carbohydrates. 

Further reviews and controls over included ingredients have been confirmed, such as the restriction of the use of the food additive trisodium citrate within sterilised and UHT milk following years of differing opinions over the technological justification for its inclusion.

In addition, new labelling standards were determined related to text, images, and colours used, taking into account the recommendations of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and the WHO guidance on Ending the Inappropriate Promotion of Foods for Infants and Young Children. The standards are intended to ensure consumers are clearly able to distinguish between infant formula, follow-up formula for older infants, product for young children, and formula for special medical purposes intended for infants.  

The adoption of the text concludes over ten years of discussion within the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Food for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU).

Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE) expressed their support for the updated rules, highlighting the need for clear and strict regulation for follow-up products to ensure healthy growth and development in early childhood.

SNE president, Marie-France Pagerey, comments: “The strict global standard is good news. We encourage its timely adoption by the EU to ensure the highest standards apply when it comes to protecting vulnerable groups. Older infants and young children are vulnerable groups with different nutritional needs compared to young infants, and very different needs from those of older children and adults. Therefore, the composition of formulas for this group also needs to be specifically adapted for their age and should follow specific requirements.

“We congratulate Codex Alimentarius and all its member states on their agreement to the updated standard, which is the result of many years of work and expert input,” she added.

Whilst the renewed standards are welcomed as a significant improvement to the original 1987 infant nutrition regulation, a publication released by baby milk action group IBFAN UK asserts there are remaining risks.

“The products will all be ultra-processed, and many will be sweet tasting, flavoured and genetically modified. Not surprisingly, the revision has taken over 10 years of tortured discussions in a Nutrition Committee (CCNFSDU) dominated by food corporations and powerful exporting countries,” the publication stated.

It takes issue with the regulations continuing to allow the ‘misleading’ claim “with added nutrients”, the inclusion of genetically modified ingredients, and the addition of flavours.

They note that, despite the introduction of better controls over sugar levels following the lack of upper limits in the 1987 standard, sweetness levels remain unmeasured.  

The report draws attention to studies highlighting the dangers of UPF consumption in children, due to contents of flavours, sweeteners and additives, which has been associated with obesity and disease development in later life.

SNE secretary general, Beat Spath, addresses these concerns:  "Processing in itself often does not change the nutritional quality of a food product and has been used for centuries to convert raw ingredients into safe, nutritious and longer-lasting foods. Without food processing, it would be impossible to produce most specialized nutrition products, which need to be nutritionally appropriate for specific groups, as well as safe. That’s clearly the case for the two categories of products covered by this new Codex Standard.

"As far as sweet taste is concerned, the revised Standard actually establishes the most restrictive framework for carbohydrates of any Codex commodity standard.

"Furthermore, all product formulations covered by the CODEX Standard will be strictly controlled and be fully aligned with the strictest guiding principles from the WHO and other dietary recommendations evidence through the restriction of the use of sucrose and/or fructose and the prohibition of sweeteners in these products," he adds.

Calls for further review

It is known that the EU only has specific regulations for infants aged 0 to 6 and 6 to 12 months. ‘Young Child Formula’ for toddlers aged 1 to 3 years remains regulated like general foods, without considering the specific nutritional needs of this vulnerable population.

Spath notes: “While we welcome that the EU has also engaged intensively to negotiate this updated global standard, we hope that the EU will follow suit and also regulate Young Child Formula for toddlers aged 1 to 3 years.”

Pagerey adds: “Young child formula is a useful way to help meet the specific nutritional needs of young children and may even help address some nutritional gaps such as iron. However, there is insufficient regulation in the EU to protect this vulnerable group, when compared to much stricter regulation governing other foods for infants and young children.

“The lack of specific regulation causes challenges in the internal and global markets, and it is increasingly inconsistent with the international regulatory framework. More specifically, the current lack of any composition requirements at the European level allows for products with inappropriate composition to potentially be placed on the EU market,” she asserts.

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