As we struggle to persuade the EU Commission to  made the much needed changes in the new regulations covering the marketing of baby foods and formulas, we are told that the only real opportunity for new laws is in the area of food safety.

OK.  So  leaving aside the bad impact these regulations (if not changed) will have on global trade (Codex etc) and the consequent  health impact  in developing countries where breastfeeding is a lifeline,  we should not  forget Europe’s own  shocking statistics on  inequalities/ poverty/ food safety /literacy and water.

Infants and young children are at greatest risk of water-related disease, and here are some  links that illustrate the problem. If according to  IBFAN’s new publication, Formula for Disaster,   it takes 800 litres of water to make a single litre of milk its perhaps not such crazy idea that protecting  breastfeeding and stopping the promotion of formulas could be a useful strategy to conserve water.

Usage of water aside – lets also not forget intrinsic contamination and the way products are marketed in an unsafe way. Nestlé’s BabyNes Machine for example that doesn’t meet WHO preparation  recommendations. .


Water statistics:

Breastfeeding saves use of Scarce Water Resources –

Formula for Disaster

Some research studies have tried to estimate the water usage on dairy farms that give an idea of the extent of water footprint produced in the production of formula. A research study estimated the indirect water usage on dairy farms in Michigan, USA and found that it is colossal (Thomas C. 2002).  Indirect water use includes: milking system clean-up, milking parlour clean-up, milk bulk tank clean-up, prepping cows for milking, milk precooling, and staff facilities.

The paper estimated an upper limit of 82,620 litres and a lower limit of 74,698 litres of indirect water usage per 1000 head of cattle.  Apart from this, the drinking water supply for cows should also be taken into consideration. A look at research studies shows that f igures on drinking water for dairy vary, but the most accepted number is that 800 litres of water is utilised to make a single litre of milk. (Blundell, 2007) A study on the external costs of dairy farming in New Zealand concluded that the quantity of clean water needed and deterioration of water quality due to faecal contamination, degradation of lowland streams and damage to air resources lead to signif icant economic costs which are not reflected in the price of a litre of milk  (Tait P and Cullen R, 2006)

The global average water footprint of whole cow milk is about 940 litres of water per kilo of milk. One kilo of whole milk gives about 200 grams of milk powder. So, the water footprint of milk powder is 4700 litres of water per kilo of milk powder. Cultivation of soy plants for soybean feed cakes for cattle and oil palms for palm oil used for infant formula are also water intensive processes and depletes water table. For calculating water footprints in greater detail, M M Mekonnen and A Y Hoekstra provide the methods for calculating blue water footprint (volume of surface and ground water footprint), green water footprint (volume of rain water footprint) and grey water footprint (volume of fresh water footprint) used to produce a product. (Mekonnen, 2012)


Water at Household Level
It is stipulated that to prepare the feeds for a three months old baby, the parent or the carer use a litre of water per day, plus two litres to boil the bottles and teats and more to wash and rinse the bottles. Further more, to prepare 6 feeds correctly every day, bottles and teats must be boiled for 10  minutes. This totals a boiling time of up to 60 minutes per day. It takes 200 grams of wood to boil one litre of water, so feeding a child artif icially for one year will use up to 73 kilos of wood. (Linnecar A, 1989) These figures are, however, more than two decades old and need recalculating in the  light of changing consumption patterns and the change in the amount of energy used in product transportation.


Poverty in European

120 million people in the EU(24%) are at risk of poverty or social exclusion.


Climate change is projected to increase the risk of food- and water-borne diseases in many parts of Europe. Projected increased temperatures could increase the risk of salmonellosis. Where precipitation or extreme flooding is projected to increase in Europe, the risk of campylobacteriosis and cryptosporidiosis could increase.

Economic Commission for Europe & World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol on Water and Health to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes Working Group on Water and Health Seventh meeting Geneva, 26 and 27 November 2014

1.The quantitative, ecological and chemical status of European waters can significantly affect human health and well-being (see also Section 3.5). These health effects can be felt directly, through lack of access to good quality drinking water, inadequate sanitation, exposure to contaminated bathing water, and consumption of contaminated freshwater and seafood. They can also be felt indirectly, when the ability of ecosystems to provide essential services for human well-being is undermined. The overall burden of water-borne diseases in Europe is probably underestimated (EFSA, 2013), and is likely to be affected by climate change (WHO, 2008; IPCC, 2014a).

water supplies, which serve some 22% of the EU population and have lower compliance with the quality standards (KWR, 2011), are more prone to contamination and to impacts of climate change. Special efforts are needed to improve the compliance of these smaller water supplies with Drinking Water Directive standards and to become resilient to climate change (EEA, 2011f; WHO, 2011c, 2010b).


WHO Euro Data:

Water-related diseases

WHO estimates that in 2011 diarrhoeal diseases were the fifth leading cause of death globally and the second leading cause of death of children less than 5 years of age. In the European Region, diarrhoea attributable to water, sanitation and hygiene is estimated to account for 5% of deaths of children aged 0–14.

  • Diarrhoeal disease accounts for around 4% of the global burden of disease, primarily in low-income countries. It is estimated that 88%of cases of diarrhoea worldwide are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation or insufficient hygiene..

Access to drinking-water and sanitation

  • Access to adequate sanitation is insufficient in some areas of Europe, in particular in Caucasus and eastern Europe: 67 million people still lack access to sanitation facilities that ensure hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact.
  • About 19 million people across the European Region still do not have access to an adequately protected source of drinking-water (a so-called “improved” source), and about 100 million people do not have access to piped water on premises. Although access has increased in general, this progress masks significant disparities within and between countries, between urban and rural areas as well as between high- and low-income groups.
  • For example, in the Caucasus and central Asia, 22% of the rural population lives in homes without access to improved drinking-water sources, as opposed to only 4% of urban dwellers. Even more significant, 71% of the rural population lacks access to piped water on premises whereas only 16% of town and city residents are similarly disadvantaged. Notably, for some countries in the European Region access to piped water on premises is decreasing.

Microbial contamination of water used for drinking, hygiene and recreation has been recognized as the prime concern throughout the European Region. Chemical pollution is often localized but may also have a significant impact on health. Diseases from emerging micro-organisms and chemicals pose additional challenges. Extreme weather events such as floods and increased water scarcity are serious mid- and long-term threats.

Functional illiteracy – why a legal requirement for clear graphics would be helpful,

Europe is encouraging the european mobility of workers.  This  means, for example that  Lithunanian or Portuguese construction workers in Luxembourg can’t read the instructions on baby formula even if they come in two or three languages.

At least 10% of people in Europe are not really illiterate but can`t follow written explanations:

Functional illiteracy is reading and writing skills that are inadequate “to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level”. Functional illiteracy is contrasted with illiteracy in the strict sense, meaning the inability to read or write simple sentences in any language.

Illiterate Britain: One in five adults struggling to read and ……/Illiterate-Britain-One-adults

Around 16 per cent, or 5.2 million adults in England, can be described as “functionally illiterate”. They would not pass an English GCSE and have literacy levels at or below those expected of an 11-year-old. They can understand short  straightforward texts on familiar topics accurately and independently, and obtain information from everyday sources, but reading information from unfamiliar sources, or on unfamiliar topics, could cause problems.

Of these approximately 5.2 million, around 3.5 million are at the upper end of the scale and have strengths and weaknesses in particular areas, rather than being at the same level for all areas of literacy. Most feel more comfortable with reading than with writing. Around 5 per cent, or 1.7 million adults in England, have literacy levels below those expected of an 11-year-old.


The Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC): Implications for education and training policies in Europe. European commission, Directorate-general for Education and Culture, Brussels, 8th October 2013.

Found 20% of the EU working age population has low literacy and low numeracy skills;




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