Packets of Milupa's Milumil for Hungrie Babies, which is fed to around 25,000 infants in the United Kingdom, were cleared from supermarkets, corner shops and chemists after the Department of Health issued an urgent food-hazard warning.
Following a governemnt funded research programme, ten children were found to have developped a rare and dangerous strain of salmonella. Though all the infants have now recovered the news does nothing to re-assure parents who were being told adamantly only weeks ago by baby-feed manufacturers, that ALL their products were safe.
The scare comes on top of an earlier one concerning the affect baby-feeds have had on sperm counts amongst men. The refusal by the Ministry of Agriculture to name nine brands of baby milk found to contain chemicals linked with declining sperm levels in men drew protests from doctors and consumer groups at the time and further added to the mounting criticism of an industry broadly criticised for its manipulative approach, aggressive marketing techniques and refusal to adhere to interntional law.
The decision at the time left mothers unable to tell whether the brand they are feeding their babies could be harmful, or which brands might be safer. The British Medical Association said mothers had the right to know. The Consumers' Association accused the Government of putting manufacturers' interests ahead of customers' and Labour condemned what it called a Government cover-up.
Once again the UK Government is embroiled in another food safety scare. In a recent report, the UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) has admitted that it found toxic chemicals in at least 15 brands of powdered baby milk.
The chemicals, all phthalates, are softening compounds contained in plastic packaging. Recent research has shown that phthalates can leach into surrounding foodstuffs, and that they can be harmful to health - causing sexual deformities in some laboratory animals. (Background information on phthalates).
The controversy has again raised the question of Government secrecy in health matters. Critics complain that MAFF is concerned more with protecting the markets of food producers than safeguarding the interests of consumers. As with the BSE crisis in beef, the lack of a separate food safety department has highlighted MAFF's divided loyalties.
Despite this criticism and the concerns of thousands of mothers who are reliant on powdered babymilk, the UK Government has decided to suppress the report. Ministers have repeatedly stressed that all babymilk is safe, while simultaneously refusing to release the information which would prove this to be the case.
Some information is known. Fifteen brands are contaminated with phthalates. Of these 15 brands, 9 are said to contain a high level of phthalates, although officials claim that the levels are still within guidelines. There has been no confirmation as to whether any brands are actually free of phthalates.
There are five major companies selling babymilk formula in the UK who between them make 13 brands (including soya formulas, but excluding 'own-brand' lables from supermarkets).
McSpotlight will continue to make available any further information we can on food safety. We feel that the interests of the public are best served by allowing people to make their own informed decisions. Too often we are expected to believe government ministers, who - as the BSE crisis shows - are more responsible to food producers than to ordinary people.