Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is Nestle's Good Start probiotic infant formula breaking the law and harming babies?

It sure looks that way to me.

You see Nestlé has a product line of infant formula entitled Nestle Good Start. Here's some stuff from their website:

"Protecting your baby's future. It's what every parent wants. And what every baby needs. Starting with the right nutrition. Introducing Nestlé® Good Start® Natural Cultures™."
What parent wouldn't want to "protect their baby's future".

So what's the issue here?

Well actually there's a bunch.

First let's go to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. In their 2007 Letter to Industry: Requirements Related to Nutrition Information and Nutrition and Health Claims for Infant Formula they spell out a few things to folks like Nestlé,
"Comparing infant formula to breast milk, including comparisons of the levels of a nutrient in infant formula to the levels of the same nutrient in breast milk, is contrary to the message embodied in the Code".


"the infant formula industry is encouraged not to make a reference to breast milk on a label or advertising of infant formula, other than a statement regarding the superiority of breastfeeding
Yet on Nestlé's site,
"Natural cultures are part of what gives breast milk its naturally protective qualities. And of the natural cultures found in breast-fed babies, one is by far the most prevalent - Bifidobacteria. That's why we added Bifidobacteria, which we call bifidus BL, to Good Start® Natural Cultures™. It's the first and only Infant Formula to contain it. Because we believe your baby deserves it."


"Enhanced with Omega-3 (DHA) and Omega-6 (ARA) - two of many important nutrients also naturally found in breast milk - to help support your baby's normal brain, eye and nerve development right from the start."


"There are only two places your newborn can get natural cultures. The first is you. The other is from Nestlé® Good Start® Natural Cultures™. "
Sure sounds like Nestlé's making the case that they've basically powdered breast milk!

But it gets worse.

Going back to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency document,
"The use of health claims on food labels and in advertising of foods including infant formulas is limited by the Food and Drugs Act. Although the Food and Drug Regulations currently allow five diet-related health claims on food labels, these are not permitted on foods for children under two years of age, including infant formulas. The dietary recommendations that lay the foundation for these claims are for adults and are not appropriate for infants and young children."
I guess Nestlé didn't get that memo as they promote their formula on their labeling and website as having the following health benefits,
"easier to digest",

"naturally protective",

"helps support babies’ normal brain, eye and nerve development",

"helps your baby build strong, healthy bones and teeth",

"crucial to his continued mental development"

"As good bacteria, Bifidobacteria can compete with unwelcome harmful bacteria in the gut by helping keep them from entering your little one's vulnerable body - providing added protection to help keep your baby healthy."
And it's about those harmful bacteria and your little one's vulnerable body where Nestlé's product can become potentially fatal.

You see there's this bacteria, Enterobacter sakazakii, it's been found to be a contaminant in infant formula. Sadly it has been known to cause sometimes fatal cases of meningitis (brain infections), sepsis (blood infections) and necrotizing enterocolitis (very bad intestinal infections) in infants. Consequently the World Health Organization in their Guidelines for the safe preparation, storage and handling of powdered infant formula recommend that with the specific aim of minimizing the risk of E. sakazakii infections, the water mixed with formula ought to be a minimum of 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) and then be allowed to cool.

And what of Nestlé "Good Start"?

They explicitly advise consumers,

But of course given that E. sakazakii actually can contaminate the formula itself even if you use previously boiled water that has cooled to 40°C you'll still run the risk of not killing this opportunistic pathogen.

As Kim Sheeler, OB nurse and whistle blower asked me in her email pointing out Nestlé's egregious behaviour,
"I wonder if the parents who spend an extra $10 or more per container of powdered probiotic formula are willing to take the risk of having their baby exposed to E. sakazakii or Salmonella in exchange for the benefits of the probiotics, or is it that they are lulled into a false sense of security by the probiotic halo and think that any risk of a sakazakii or salmonella infection is minimized by the presence of probiotic cultures?"
Great questions Kim.

This isn't the first time Nestlé's come under the gun for their aggressive formula marketing as this article from the UK attests - that said, aggressive marketing is one thing, breaking the law and endangering children is quite another.

I'll be sending this post along to the consumer protection division of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and to the Director of the Bureau of Nutritional Sciences at Health Canada. Perhaps they will be able to put a stop to what appears to me to be both a horrendous abuse of public trust and a potentially fatal product for infants.