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Nestlé ignores bacterial contamination of baby milk at AGM as Chief Executive promotes chocolate as a healthy breakfast

22 April 2004, Lausanne, Switzerland

At its annual Shareholders’ meeting in Lausanne, 22 April, Nestle's slick PR machine (which for the first time banned cameras, and any form of recording equipment) was caught off guard by a growing number of questions from concerned shareholders. Questions about why Nestlé continues to be the biggest violator of United Nations' (UN) rules on the marketing of baby foods were addressed by Nestle's CEO, Peter Brabeck, with the usual blanket assurance of almost perfect behaviour. But he faltered on a question about the UN concern about the emerging public health risk of contamination of powdered infant formula, passing to Werner Bauer (Executive Director of Nestlé's Technical, Production, Environment, Research and Development Unit) who denied there was any real problem.

Patti Rundall, OBE, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action, on behalf of the International Nestle Boycott Committee, pointed to the fact that Enterobacter is a life-threatening bacteria that has been identified by the World Health Organisation as a "known public health risk" (see note 1). Ms Rundall asked Nestle to declare the level of bacteria in its products and asked whether it would voluntarily put warnings on its labels about the possible risk of contamination.

In reply, Werner Bauer, said that the bacteria is extremely common and found on clothes, carpets and in households, and only very rarely causes disease. He then went on to say that Nestle's infant formula standards are 100 times stricter than those called for by Codex Alimentarius (the UN body which sets global food standards).

Mr Bauer failed to refer to the fact that most contamination occurs during the manufacturing process - after pasteurisation. Nestlé's own studies indicate that "Environmental samples from eight out of nine food factories contained Enterobacter sakazakii". (see note 2) There is also evidence that Nestle powdered infant formulas may have higher levels of Enterobacter Sakazakii than permitted by the Codex Alimentarius standards. (see note 3) Nestlé’s refusal to make public the norms it follows in its manufacturing processes in different countries undoubtedly fuels uncertainty and suspicion.

Alison Linnecar, International coordinator for IBFAN Geneva, tried to correct Werner Bauer's statement by providing the correct facts and details of Nestlé's own research, but was rudely silenced by the Chairman of Nestlé’s Board, Rainer Gut.

Turning to the current concern about obesity, Ms Rundall referred to the report by the UK Consumers Association that 7 of the 15 breakfast cereals with the highest levels of sugar, fat and salt were Nestle products (see note 4) She called on Nestle to stop its promotion of such foods to children. Brabeck wobbled again, questioning the validity of the report and referring to lifestyle choices and exercise. In earlier reports (Daily Telegraph, March 2 2004) Mr Brabeck claimed that he is not obese and yet “every morning I have a tablet of dark chocolate as my breakfast” and that it is the perfect balance and contains everything he needs for the day.

Finally Ms Rundall questioned Nestle's claim that it follows UN guidelines, and suggested that Nestle could perhaps demonstrate its commitment by advocating the adoption of these guidelines (which include a ban of promotion of all breastmilk substitutes) as law within the European Community. The current EU legislation is now being reviewed by the European Commission (see note 5). Peter Brabeck failed to pick up on this offer claiming that it was not Nestle's place to dictate to Governments. For the last two decades Nestle has led the industry lobby - often behind the scenes ) attempting to undermine governments efforts to implement the guidelines fully. The most recent attack from industry has been in South Africa. Despite this pressure over 70 countries have now laws in place (see

Following the splitting of Nestle shares by a factor of 10, less well heeled people can now afford to buy a share (previously each share cost Aproximately £1,470 ($2,190 ). This year Nestlé’s treatment of its workers in Colombia and in the Perrier factory, water, its general management and the pay of Board members were hotly debated. One shareholder complained that Mr Brabeck's remuneration – if his shares were taken into account amounted to nearly 12 million SF - and that this was certainly not just 6 times more than the lowest paid as Rainer Gut was claiming.


1. An Executive summary and Question and Answer paper is on the WHO website
Concern was sparked by the death of a 5-day old baby - fed on contaminated Nestle formula in a hospital in Belgium in March 2002. Since then, WHO, FAO, Codex, campaigners, the United States and Canadian Governments, have been calling for measures to alert health care workers and parents to the problem. Documented outbreaks of illness and death have occurred in Belgium, Iceland, Israel, and repeatedly in Canada and the USA.

Ref. 1: Nazarowec-White M and Farber G. Incidence, Survival and Growth of Enterobacter sakazakii in Infant Formula Journal of Food Protection Vol 60, No 3, 1997, Pages 226-230.

Quote: "Dried infant formula has been implicated in outbreaks and sporadic cases of E. sakazakii meningitis. The high mortality rate (50 to 75%), the severity of the infection in infants, the lack of information of the incidence, survival and growth of E. sakazakii in foods led to his study.... A total of 120 cans (from 5 different companies) of infant formula were examined for the presence of E. sakazakii. The microorganism was cultured from 8 cans of the product. The levels of E. sakazakii found in the positive samples was 0.36 cfu (colonfy forming units) per 100 grams. These findings were similar to those of Muytjens et al. who reported levels of E. sakazakii ranging from 0.36 to 66.0 cfu per 100 grams of dried infant formula in three cans of Canadian formulas examined."

2. The study published in The Lancet in January 2004 supported by the Nestlé Research Centre showed "The presence of Enterobacter sakazakii in factories producing milk powder, cereals, chocolate, potato flour and pasta": It is the manufacturing process itself which allows the risk of contamination after pasteurisation: powdered infant formula is not a commercially sterile product.

3. The Codex standards allow for a minumum of 4 out of 5 samples with less than 3 colony-forming units (cfu) per gram of powdered infant formula, and a maximum of one of the five controls with less than 20 cfu per gram. In Switzerland Nestlé may follow the Swiss norms which allow 10 cfu per gram. In Canada, coliform counts of 0.36 Enterobacter sakazakii per gram caused outbreaks of severe meningitis in newborns (ref. 1). In 2003, the Dutch Food Safety Authority recommended that there be no Enterobacter sakazakii detectable in 50 grams of formula. In view of the vulnerability of newborn babies, Codex is revising its standards to ensure more adequate protection against this life-threatening bacteria.

4. Articles about the Consumers Association report on cereals can be found on the following links:,,1-1057892,00.html ,

5. Consultation papers for the revision of current EU legislation covering the marketing of infant formula can be found on the Food Standards Agency website:

6. A letter sent to Baby Milk Action the day after the AGM by Nestlé's Senior Policy Advisor, Beverley Mirando, demonstrates the systematic and institutionalised contempt shown by Nestlé for the UN marketing requirements for baby foods (click here for details).

For more information contact:

Alison Linnecar, Coordinator, IBFAN-GIFA C.P. 157, 1211 Geneva 19 Switzerland
tel: + 41 22 798 91 64, fax: + 41 22 798 44 43 email:

Patti Rundall, Policy Director Baby Milk Action, 23 St Andrew's St, Cambridge, CB2 3AX
Work Tel: 01223 464420, Mobile: 07786 523493, Fax: 01223 464417

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