Stop press: I will be attending the Open Plenary of the Panel on Nutrition, Novel Foods and Food Allergens on 3 July 2019 from 9 am to 3.30 pm where the draft opinion and the technical report addressing the comments submitted through the public consultation are scheduled for discussion and possible adoption.   Those who commented can register through the following link by 30 June 2019: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/events/event/190702. The draft agenda for this event is available through the same link.

“The wrong question criteria, some questionable data review and conclusions and insufficient disclosure of conflict of interest.”

Dr Helen Crawley, First Steps Nutrition Trust

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) betrays its original purpose and launches a faulty and potentially harmful  Public Consultation on the draft scientific opinion on appropriate age for introduction of complementary feeding into an infant’s diet. May 2019

Background

In January 2016 – the European Parliament rejected draft  EU proposals, that would have allowed baby foods to be labelled for use from 4 months of age and to contain high levels of sugar. As a large exporter of baby foods to Third Countries, EU laws have a far-reaching impact on child health,  not only for babies living within the EU but for children living outside it so the EP vote was significant. The EU Parliament led by the EU Greens, called on the European Commission  (the EU’s civil service) to bring EU regulations into line with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on sugar and age of use labelling – something the baby food industry has opposed for many years.

This new EFSA consultation follows on from the 2016 EP vote and assessments by the EU Joint Research Council (JRC) published last November.  Sadly it contains serious flaws and omissions that led to its illogical conclusion that although there no need for complementary foods before 6 months, there was no evidence of risk of introducing complementary infant feeding at 3-6 months.  The comments submitted by WHO staff, First Steps Nutrition and others (see below) exposed the shortcomings in the EFSA approach that must be addressed by the new EU Commission before it resumes its work on the delegated acts.

Further background and how EFSA was established

Baby Milk Action and our IBFAN partners have worked to improve the advice provided to EU policy makers since the early
1980s when the first EU regulations were being debated and adopted – before EFSA was established. (see UK EU Chronology) Our aim has been to ensure that policy setting is kept as free as possible from commercial influence and that EU scientific advice is de-linked from political efforts to expand the EU market.

In 1999, together with Baroness Glenys Kinnock (then a Member of the European Parliament) we exposed the lack of transparency regarding the conflicts of interest of members of the Scientific Committee for Food (SCF).  The EU Commission responded by closing down the SCF and soon after, the new European Food Authority was formed.(1)

Over the years EFSA opinions on baby foods, alongside the EU’s Precautionary Principle, improved and played a more positive role in safeguarding child health: rejecting industry evidence for health and nutrition claims; calling for better evidence on the safety on infant formulas, stating that so called “growing-up” formulas do not “bring additional value to a balanced diet”balanced diet”, bringing follow-on formula composition closer to infant formula,  etc.  EFSA also supported these opinions at Codex Alimentarius meetings, where global food standards are set.

However, the issue of Conflicts of Interest (COI) has remained a problem that has never been fully resolved. This was evident in EFSA’s ‘Scientific Opinion on the appropriate age for introduction of complementary feeding of infants’ in 2009. This  concluded that “the introduction of complementary food into the diet of healthy term infants in the EU between the age of 4 and 6 months is safe and does not pose a risk for adverse health effects (both in the short-term, including infections and retarded and excessive weight gain, and possible long-term effects such as allergy and obesity)”.  EFSA seemed to ignore Panel Members COI, over-emphasised Coeliac Disease (2) and failed to consider developmental readiness or the impact on public health recommendations on 6 months exclusive breastfeeding.(3)

 

Some comments sent to EFSA:

WHO staff response: WHO_EFSA_2019

First Steps Nutrition:  FSNT EFSA (1)FSNT EFSA (2)

Dr Adriano Cattaneo: Cattaneo EFSA.  

Compilation of comments from the following organisations:
1,000 Days……………………………………………………..………….………2
Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine……………………..……………3
Baby Milk Action………………………………………………………………….6
Cattaneo, Adriano……………………………….………………………….….8
First Steps Nutrition……………………………..…………………………….9
German Educational Institute for Breastfeeding Support……21
German Midwives Association…..……………………….……………..23
Helen Keller International………………………………………………….29
Luxemburg Lactation Organisation……………………………………..31
Rapley, Gill……………………..………………………………………….….……32
Unicef………………………………………………………………………………….40
WHO…………………………………………….………………………….…….……43
(1) Click here Before 2000 EU decisions were justified by  ‘advice’  from the Scientific Committee for Food (SCF) which did not require its members to made public declarations of interest.   In 1999,  IBFAN wrote to Commissioner David Byrne and Glenys Kinnock MEP submitted a number of written questions to the Commission.  In January 2000  Commissioner Liikanen responded by promising that the annual declarations of the SCF  would be made public. In April 2000 we had an informal meeting with the Commission to  discuss transparency in the context of the development of the proposed reorganisation of the Scientific Committees and the establishment of a new  European Food Authority.   Scientists bow to call for more transparency, European Voice, March 2000 (see below)

(2) Worth noting that  EFSA 2019 scientific opinion found no evidence for either beneficial or adverse effects of introducing foods containing gluten earlier than 6 months of age.

(3) European opinion on baby foods influenced by industry funding, Baby Milk Action Press Release 2009

(4)  Perspective: Should Exclusive Breastfeeding Still Be Recommended for 6 Months? |

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *