A soy-based infant formula has been linked to the deaths of three babies and hospitalisation of several others in Israel in recent months.
The marketer of the formula, leading Israeli baby foods company Remedia, which is partly owned by the US food firm H.J. Heinz, has recalled the product after admitting that the formulation produced by Germany's Humana Milchunion had been slightly altered in the spring (just before the first death).
Officials from Israel's Health Ministry claim that the reformulated product lacked vitamin B1, or thiamine, although the packaging says the vitamin is included, according to an Associated Press report.
B vitamins are essential for the development and functioning of the nervous system. The infant deaths, the first of which occurred in June, were all due to nervous disorders. Three more infants are in criticial condition in hospital, according to the report, and there are a further 10 suspicious cases under investigation.
Officials in Israel have not found conclusive evidence to link the formula to the deaths but say that all the babies hospitalised had been fed with Remedia. The US FDA is also looking into the product recall as the kosher formula, available in the US, could also affect Orthodox Jewish communities there.
The deaths in Israel have not been so far been shown to be associated with soy but there has previoulsy been some concern about feeding soy-based formula to infants. Earlier this year the UK's independent scientific Committee on Toxicity (COT) urged the government to review its advice on the use of soya-based infant formulas, following a report suggesting that there is a lack of evidence on the impact of phytoestrogens on health.
And last year an animal study found that genistein, a phytoestrogen present in soy, severely damaged the sexual development of infant rats.