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Past press releases and articles on contaminants and infant feeding available on the Baby Milk Action website

Update 5 April 2004

Click here to download the leaflet: Towards Healthy Environments for Children: Frequently asked questions about breastfeeding in a contaminated environment

Follow the links for the full text of documents.

1. Seeing behind the headlines about 'toxins in breastmilk'

2. Contaminants also impact on artificial feeding

1. Seeing behind the headlines about 'toxins in breastmilk'.

Baby Milk Action comment on Tonight with Trevor McDonald, Contaminants in breastmilk 8pm, Monday April 5th, ITV1.

This programme provided a useful source of information on how parents could reduce sources of chemical contamination in the home but failed to take a balanced look at this vital issue. It will almost certainly generate alarmist headlines all over the world. Breastfeeding is a sensitive process which is very easily disrupted and a multi-billion dollar baby food industry is poised to exploit these concerns. Alarmist headlines have an especially damaging impact in developing countries where the decision whether to breastfeed or bottle feed is a matter of life or death.

The programme several times mentioned that breastfeeding is best but failed to explain why it was especially so in relation to contamination. For example it did not explain that the chemicals received before birth are a more fundamental threat to the development of the child than at any other period: that contamination occurs before conception, from damage done to fathers semen, and during pregnancy when the baby is in the womb. Most of the damage is done by the time the infant is born but the programme gave the opposite impression. Hardly anything was said about how breastmilk helps the child develop a stronger immune system which protects against environmental pollutants and pathogens and can counteract the adverse developmental effects of PCBs and dioxins – limiting the damage caused by fetal exposure.

Baby Milk Action is part of an international network of citizens groups called, the International Baby Food Action Network, with over 200 groups in 100 countries. We strongly believe that parents have the right to accurate and balanced information, and we regularly cover the issue of contamination in our publications (see examples on this page and the leaflet Towards Healthy Environments for Children). We work with environmental and public interest groups to create healthier environments and ensure that levels of toxic contamination are reduced. To comment on the television programme, you can send an email to twtm@granadamedia.com

Environmental campaigning - the risks for infant health
Summer 2003 - Update Newsletter
http://www.babymilkaction.org/update/update33.html#4
Sensational stories about toxins in breastmilk can have an adverse impact on breastfeeding - particular when headlines are repeated around the world without risks being put in context. All experts agree that breastfeeding remains the best option for infants. Toxins are often measured in breastmilk because it is an easier way to access fat-soluble contaminants than sampling body fat. Some environmental campaigners have become concerned at the negative impact of their message calling for controls of dangerous chemicals has had on undermining breastfeeding and have changed their messages. Others - including one linked to Nestlé part-owned L'Oreal - suggest breastmilk is poisonous to shock. See two approaches in this report.

Summary of IBFAN Statement on Breastfeeding and Dioxins
June 2001 - Update Newsletter
http://www.babymilkaction.org/update/update29.html#8
There are an increasing number of media reports about the problems caused by dioxins. Dioxins are environmental contaminants found mainly in the food chain, so they are absorbed by humans. Dioxins are stored in body fat and are extremely persistent. Absorption takes place mainly through the food we eat but also through the air we breathe. Breastmilk is often cited as a source of dioxins - but this is because fat soluable contaminants are relatively easily measured in breastmilk, not because breastmilk is any more contaminated than other body parts.

Full IBFAN statement: http://www.ibfan.org/english/activities/contaminants/cont20dec00.html

Scare stories again
December 1999 - Update newsletter
http://www.babymilkaction.org/update/update26.html#11d
A report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) was published at the launch of World Breastfeeding Week and created scare stories around the world. WWF wanted to highlight the risk of environmental contaminants, which accumulate in body fats and are most readily measured in breastmilk, which has a high fat content. Despite the fact that the report noted falling levels and the greater transmission of toxins in-utero, breastfeeding scare stories resulted in many countries. Baby Milk Action received anxious calls from health workers working to protect breastfeeding and infant health, in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and India. Perhaps WWF can learn from UNICEF who conducted a similar review of existing research in 1997. The UNICEF paper, Breastfeeding and Environmental Contamination, did not look at breastfeeding in isolation and cited a study which estimates that 'about three days of life expectancy would be lost because of cancer attributable to contaminant exposure through breastmilk. In contrast the decrease life expectancy from not breastfeeding was about 70 days'. UNICEF's paper is available from Baby Milk Action, or UNICEF Nutrition Section, 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA.

Cut pollution - not breastfeeding
16th July 1999 - Press Release
http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press16july99.html

The report Chemical Trespass: A Toxic Legacy published recently by the World Wildlife Fund highlights environmental pollution by focusing on the levels in breastmilk. The report is a review of existing research and, while highlighting the levels of pollutants, " WWF insists that it is still better for babies to be breast-fed than not."

Good news on breastfeeding shows the effectiveness of environmental campaigning
14 May 1997 - Information for the press from Baby Milk Action and Women's Environmental Network
http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press14may97.html
The UK Government Committee on Toxicity today (14th May 1997) announced a 30% fall in the levels of Dioxins in breastmilk reflecting a general lowering of levels throughout Europe. Research in Germany shows that PCB and Dioxin levels are down by 50%(1). The news illustrates the effectiveness of campaigning on environmental issues and the wisdom of policies which aim to phase out persistent chemicals rather than attempting to regulate and control their use.

2. Contaminants also impact on artificial feeding

WHO warns of ‘intrinsic contamination of infant formula’
March 2004 - Update newsletter
http://www.babymilkaction.org/update/update34.html#2
The long-awaited United Nations expert meeting on the bacteria Enterobacter Sakazakii in tins of powdered infant formula has concluded that: “intrinsic contamination of powdered infant formula with E.sakazakii and Salmonella has been a cause of infection and illness in infants including severe disease, and can lead to serious developmental sequelae (health consequences) and death” and that “E Sakazakii is more commonly found in the manufacturing environment, which is a potential source of post-pasteurization contamination.” The meeting (organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation in Geneva 2-5 February 2004) agreed that caregivers should be regularly alerted to the fact that powdered infant formula is not a sterile product and that guidelines should be developed to advise on how best to limit the risk of infection.
For two years, since the tragic baby death in Belgium in March 2002 (see Update 31), we have been pressing for this problem to be addressed by Codex (the United Nation’s food standards setting body), WHO and national authorities.

The lack of surveillance in most countries probably explains why the reported frequency of the disease appears to be very low. However, the disease is devastating. Once infection has occurred, mortality rates are between 20%-50%, with significant long-term effects in the form of neurological deficiencies, especially among those with severe meningitis and cerebritis.

An Executive summary and Question and Answer paper is on the WHO website (www.who.int/foodsafety/micro/7meetings/feb2004/en/7 - amended several times in the light of IBFAN and other comments). How to alert parents and care-givers is not yet addressed. The conclusions will be forwarded to the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene which meets in Washington in March (for Codex papers and dates see: www.codexalimentarius.com).

Dangers from plastic feeding bottles
November 2000 - Update newsletter
http://www.babymilkaction.org/update/update28.html#12
A report published by the World Wildlife Fund highlights the dangers of some plastic feeding bottles because of exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA) - an industrial chemical used to manufacture polycarbonate and other plastic items. The level of exposure in a bottle-fed infant is less than the tolerable daily intake, but greater than the quantity found to cause effects in studies on animals. WWF are particularly concerned about younger infants, perhaps using their siblings' bottles which are older and have had more exposure to dishwashing and bottle brushing. Manufacturers are asked to include advice to consumers on the label to change bottles every 6 months. WWF adds that "a change to safer materials is preferable"

And now ESBOs
December 1999 - Update newsletter
http://www.babymilkaction.org/update/update26.html#5c
EU limits for pesticides in baby foods were also adopted in March, but will not come fully into effect until July 2002 (1999/50/EC). There are no set limits on other contaminants in baby foods, so parents will remain in the dark about levels of lead, cadmium, etc. Now it seems that an oil in the seal of the lids of baby food jars could cause a problem. Government tests found toxic contamination from epoxidised soya bean oil (ESBO) in 48% of samples. Although there is no immediate health risk, infants should not eat products with the same high level of ESBO all the time. Companies have been asked to reduce ESBO levels. (This is the complete article).

UK Panic over Phthalates in baby foods
August 1996 - Update newsletter
http://www.babymilkaction.org/www.babymilkaction.org/update/update19.html#5
Consumer confidence in the safety of UK food was badly damaged by the BSE and beef crisis. It plummeted further in May when news broke that 9 brands of baby milk on sale in the UK were contaminated with phthalates - man-made chemicals which have been linked with cancer and a lowering of sperm count. For weeks afterwards the Baby Milk Action office was flooded with media enquiries and calls from alarmed and anxious parents. While we did not want to exacerbate the situation, we were placed in a difficult situation - knowing that the problem with phthalates is only one of a long line of concerns that exist about formula milks.