Infant foods safe, says industry, EC confirms wide-ranging trace element review

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Baby food, Infant, Ec

UK infant food manufacturers have insisted their products are safe and comply with all regulations, said the sector’s trade body in response to a study this week that raised concerns over levels of trace elements in some products.

The British Specialist Nutrition Association (BSNA) said safety is the primary concern of its members and challenged one of the main assumptions of the research carried out by Swedish scientists that questioned the suitability of including rice in infant food.

The European Commission (EC) and UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) told FoodProductionDaily.com the levels detected by the study did not give immediate cause for concern. But they highlighted the need to reduce them as much as possible and said a wholesale review process had been launched that was due to report its findings next year.

Valid comparison?

The investigation by the Karolinska Institutet team in Sweden into the concentration of trace elements in nine infant formulas and nine infant foods revealed wide variations between different products intended for babies of less the 4 months old.

Rice-based products were highlighted as being of particular concern because of the levels of arsenic found in them. While no legal limits were broken, the authors said just two portions a day of rice-based infant food would come very close to the former tolerable daily intake of 2.1 μg/kg bodyweight – a figure now deemed inappropriate by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

But the BSNA questioned the researchers’ comparison between the composition of infant formulas and baby cereals to that of breast milk

“Baby cereals are not designed to be breast-milk substitutes and therefore should not be compared to breast-milk,”​ said the body.

It added that minerals and heavy metals that were analysed in the study are all found naturally in the environment and therefore may be naturally present in ingredients. The BSNA said all ingredients were selected to ensure the lowest possible occurrence of the trace elements.

“Ingredients that do not meet stringent specifications are not used in baby foods,” ​it added.

Wide-ranging EC review

The EC confirmed that while the levels of lead, cadmium and arsenic in baby foods found in the Swedish study did not “give immediate reason for concern“,​ it declared it was key to reduce them as much as possible.

It has launched a far-reaching review with member states to reassess existing maximum levels for lead and cadmium in food. Existing levels for lead infant formula may be lowered following the evaluation, while those for cadmium in baby food are expected to be introduced for the first time, said Brussels.

Baby foods will be the only food group considered within the review on maximum levels for lead and cadmium. The EC also vowed to scrutinise other foods that are of particular importance for infants and children – such as milk, chocolate, vegetables, cereals and cereal products.

The Commission is further considering introducing harmonised maximum levels for arsenic in foodstuffs. Presently these only exist for drinking water and natural mineral water. Several member states are monitoring arsenic levels in rice and cereals in relation to specific groups such as children as well as on parameters as “origin, varieties and state of processing”​ said the EC.

The EC hopes to complete the cadmium and arsenic reviews by early 2012 while the one for lead is expected later that year.

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