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Wrong message given over baby food jar scare

16 October 2003

The media is reporting that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is calling on the baby food industry to change the sealant used in jars as there is a small, theoretical link with cancer. While correctly advising parents not to worry unduly, it is disappointing that when interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning Sir John Krebbs of the UK Food Standards Agency implied that using unprocessed foods was not a good alternative for parents wanting to avoid baby foods in jars. Prompted by the interviewer, who suggested that mothers might prefer to give their babies a mashed banana, he said that if mothers choose to prepare foods at home they should be careful about the nutritional content, and that they could always used dried food instead of food in jars.

While care should be taken, particularly over salt and sugar levels, there is a great deal of merit in using unprocessed, locally available foods for infant feeding. Indeed, this is the recommendation of the World Health Assembly, as set out in Resolution 47.5 in 1994 and in the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, adopted in 2002.

Patti Rundall OBE, Policy Director at Baby Milk Action, said:

"This would have been an ideal opportunity for the FSA to stress that babies need nothing other than breastmilk or formula for the first 6 months, in line with current Government policy, followed by continued breastfeeding or formula alongside family foods (ideally fresh foods). This could be done without causing further alarm. Unfortunately Sir John made the situation worse."

Dr Sue Barlow, of the EFSA, is quoted on the BBC website: "The risk to consumers resulting from the possible presence of semicarbazide in foods, if any, is judged to be very small." However, this new contamination risk is just one of many that exist in processed packaged food, and a reason why these foods should not be promoted or marketed with health claims and other promotional devices.

For more information contact: Patti Rundall on 07786 523493.


  1. Resolution 47.5, adopted in 1994 by the World Health Assembly, the world's highest health policy setting body, calls on Member States: "to promote sound infant and young child nutrition, in keeping with their commitment to the World Declaration for Nutrition,(1) through coherent effective intersectoral action, including:... (d) fostering appropriate complementary feeding practices from the age of about six months, emphasizing continued breast-feeding and frequent feeding with safe and adequate amounts of local foods;"

  2. The Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding includes the following recommendations for appropriate support: "Providing sound and culture-specific nutrition counselling to mothers of young children and recommending the widest possible use of indigenous foodstuffs will help ensure that local foods are prepared and fed safely in the home."

  3. Baby food companies, such as Boots and Heinz, are violating Resolution 47.5, and others adopted since, by promoting baby foods, including those in jars, for use before six months of age. Some juices and waters in glass jars are promoted for use from a few weeks of age. Baby Milk Action is campaigning on this issue. Heinz has responded by stating that it will not abide by the Resolutions or the Government's own '6 months' policy for the time being (see responses to the June 2003 Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet).

  4. Baby Milk Action is a member of the Baby Feeding Law Group. Other members have mother support lines which can be contacted for advice on infant feeding. See
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