“Breast is Best” Debate Returns To Strasbourg

05 April 2011

MEPs will decide tomorrow (Wednesday) whether to allow baby food manufacturers to claim that adding docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to baby food "contributes to the normal visual development of infants up to 12 months of age."

DHA is a fatty acid naturally occurring in breast milk. Many baby milk formulae include it as a synthetic additive. Manufacturers have applied for permission to make the health claim for DHA added to baby food, including follow-on formulae, for infants from 6-12 months. The

Commission had proposed to allow the claim that DHA (an omega 3 fatty acid) contributes to children's visual development. The European Parliament's own Public Health and Food Safety Committee is recommending that Parliament should not authorise this health claim, as it believes more research is needed into the effects of DHA supplements.

On 16 March, the European Parliament's Public Health and Food Safety Committee recommended, by 30 votes in favour to 28 against, that Parliament should not authorise the health claim. To prevent the claim being authorised, this vote needs to be confirmed by Parliament as a whole, in a plenary vote in Strasbourg tomorrow (Wednesday).

Speaking ahead of the vote in Strasbourg, Smith said:

"I will be voting against the claim tomorrow as I believe more research is needed on the effects of DHA supplements and as there is no scientific consensus on the positive effects of DHA at present, the claim is misleading parents.

"Parents already struggle to separate the unscientific advertising claims made on packaging and the facts they genuinely need to make informed choices. It is an effective marketing ploy employed by the food industry in order to entice consumers into buying products.

"Manufacturers shouldn't allow parents to be misled and coerced into spending more money in the fear that their child will not develop properly if they do not buy a certain product. Parents have a right to independent, evidenced-based information on baby feeding.

"While formula has its place, we shouldn't be seeking to give it an unfair advantage over breast feeding. DHA is found in breast milk but it is clearly not possible to make similar grand proclamations on packaging about how good it is for infant visual development so why should follow-on formula be given this advantage just because it comes in a tin? To allow it would be to mislead parents and I hope the Parliament act to stop it."