Formula milk, an important infant milk substitute, and a highly vulnerable commodity is in danger. Commercial interests rather than health concerns determine what goes into formula milk, warn child health experts in this week's BMJ.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission, part of both the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, develops standards and guidelines on food to protect consumers' health and to ensure fair trade practices globally. This being a highly sensitive issue as infants are too vulnerable.
Three scientific reviews all agree that the safe level of infant formula protein should be based on a recognized nitrogen conversion factor. While the industry argues that using the lower nitrogen conversion factor would lead to a loss of some €80m (£55m; $96m) for the dairy industry in Europe alone, this is clearly not the case if the appropriate factor is applied to infant feeding products.
Another controversial issue was the approach to setting maximum values for nutrients. But, contrary to this strong scientific advice, some member states requested that the maximum values should be established only for levels of nutrients with documented adverse effects in infants, while in all other cases only interim upper values should be established which would not be binding for manufacturers.
As a conclusion doctors should choose and recommend only those infant formulas with compositions based on current scientific knowledge and on the nutritional requirements of infants.