Nestlé formula seized following Italian Judge's order
threatens to sue Nestle CEO, Peter Brabeck
rebukes Brabeck for misusing its statement
Press release 22
2005 - update 24 November and 9 December.
to reports in the Italian and international media, Nestlé
ready-to-feed infant milks are
being seized by the police in Italy following
a ruling from a Judge in the town of Ascoli. A total of 30
million litres are reportedly involved. Italian officials
reportedly say they seized 2 million litres of Nestlé milk
at the beginning of November when this was also found contaminated
with isopropylthioxanthone (ITX), a component in the ink
used on the packaging. Italian officials have
said all affected products (Nidina 1 and 2 baby milks, Mio
and Mio cereali) with a sell-by date of September 2006 have
to be removed from
Nestlé was quick to claim that the substance is not harmful and claims
that the comapny is recalling the
milk as a precautionary measure. Yet, according to the Guardian (23 November 2005) the problem has been known for some time and an alert requiring 'immediate action' was issued on 8 September 2005. The current 'sequestration order [was] issued by a prosecutor in the east coast town of Ascoli.'
This is not the first time that Nestlé has been slow to take action over a known contamination problem (see below), nor the first time it has presented action forced upon it as its own responsible response.
Update 24 November: It has been reported that Nestle knew of the contamination in July. Nestle Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, has claimed the company had permission to carry on selling it, which the Italian health ministry has denied and is threatening to sue Mr. Brabeck. According to Forbes : "The Italian health ministry said last night it was 'dismayed' by the 'completely false' statement by Brabeck and denied 'all contact' with Nestle about the agreement described by the Nestle chief executive."
a statement when the contamination became public knowledge
claiming the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) "has
determined that the chemical found should not cause a toxic
threat in the levels detected. It has deemed the milk as posing
'no immediate health risk'.".
EFSA wrote to Mr. Brabeck on 1 December and took the highly
unusual step of making its letter public (see http://www.efsa.eu.int/science/afc/afc_documents/1233_en.html).
maintains this statement, which implies endorsement of the
safety of Nestlé's products currently on the market, does
not reflect the nature of the scientific advice given to
date by the authority and is potentially misleading. EFSA
has not been able to 'determine' the safety of ITX but rather
made a very preliminary statement on the basis of its initial
evaluation of the very limited scientific data available.
We have indicated that, based on current knowledge, ITX does
not appear to present an immediate health risk at the levels
reported in foods. EFSA's Scientific Panel expects to issue
further advice in the next two weeks following more extensive
review of all available data. The Panel intends to publish
its formal opinion on the risks of ITX no later than March
Panel issued a statement on 9 December, which generated headlines
such as Nestlé
vindicated by EU safety finding with Dow Jones stating:
"Nestle can feel vindicated by
the EU finding that ink from baby milk packaging isn't harmful,
says Kepler Equities, and lauds Nestle's quick action in addressing
issue. "This always seemed like a storm in a teacup" for
food companies like Nestle and Numico (37561.AE), says Kepler,
with issue getting blown out of proportion."
This ignores the fact that Nestlé
knew of the contamination for months and only began a recall
when Italian police began seizing formula following a court
order. Baby Milk
Action wonders who spun this as the EFSA advice is once again
more circumspect, particularly when considering the impact
advises that the presence of ITX in foods, whilst undesirable,
does not give cause for health concern at the levels reported...
The Panel gave special attention to the exposure of infants
and young children. Infants who are not exclusively breastfed
may be fed with ready-to-feed formulae packed in cartons.
A large number of beverages consumed by young children
are likely to be packed in cartons, particularly milk-based
products and fruit juice in small volume packages. The
potential dietary exposure of infants and young children
could therefore be higher than that of adults. Following
the review of available genotoxicity studies, the Panel
concluded that the findings from animal studies did not
indicate a genotoxic potential for ITX. EFSA therefore
advises that ITX does not give cause for health concern
at the levels reported. There are no data available
at present on aspects other than genotoxicity. If contamination
of foods with ITX was to continue, the Panel would wish
to make recommendations about further studies that
may be needed."
has indicated Nestlé continued to sell the formula knowing
it was contaminated. It is disputed whether he had an agreement
with the Italian Ministry of Health to do this. Without
the Italian court forcing a recall, some
parents would have continued to
feed contaminated formula to their infants without
being informed by Nestlé or the authorities of the contamination,
effectivley a mass uncontrolled trial performed without parental
consent. This may only have come to public light if other health
eye on its profits, Nestlé has said, according to reports,
that the recall will
impact on the company's results at group
level. Again according to reports, the Italian Agriculture
Minister Gianni Alemanno has demanded tests to see
if any harm may have been caused to infants fed over a prolonged
period with the milks.
CNN and ANSI (in Italian)
Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:
there is a long list of problems of contamination,
inevitable with a mass-produced,
artificial product which is centrally manufactured
- or in this case manufactured in
more than one country - and
across national borders.
have to be vigilant in their monitoring to protect the
public. When cases like this
occur government authorities need to quickly give information
on risks which can be trusted.
"It is an all
too common occurence that scratching the surface of reassuring
statements about Nestlé's business
activities reveals facts distorted, organisations
misrepresented and lives put at risk for profit.
is freshly produced, when and where it is needed
and protects infants against
infections and contaminants in the environment.
a similar recall in China, where iodine levels were outside government
safety limits, Nestle is currently aggressively
promoting its affected range
of Neslac milks by putting doctors in supermarkets, despite
the World Health Assembly ban on seeking contact with mothers.
Nestle should not be allowed to use a re-launch
as an excuse to flout marketing
regulations in China or in Europe."
May 2005 Nestlé's infant formula was removed from supermarket
shelves in China after health authorities found that it contained
excess iodine. Nestlé belatedly apologized for deviating
from the national standard after media reports. Initially
its milk suppliers. An online survey showed that 87% of consumers
said they would stop purchasing Nestlé products, primarily
because of the firm’s lukewarm response. China
Daily (10 June 2005) says that many people believe that Nestlé reacted "with
the speed and alacrity of a sailor drunk on shore leave." Nestlé
is now relaunching the Neslac range with an aggressive promotional
campaign. Free samples are currently being distributed in supermarkets
and doctors have been placed in stores to promote the products
to customers (China
Daily 17 October 2005). Such tactics violate
the World Health Assembly International
Code of Marketing of Breastmilk
2002 Nestlé Beba 1 and Beba 2 formulas
were removed from sale in Belgium and Luxembourg following
the death of a 5-day-old
child from meningitis, linked tocontamination
of the formula with Enterobacter Sakazakii during the manufacturing process. On that
occassion formula from the same batch remained on sale in Switzerland
after the recall in Belgium and Luxembourg. See Update
Mike Brady on 07986 736179.