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DHA in baby food: Environment Committee opposes health claim

Plans to allow baby food makers to claim that adding the natural fatty acid DHA to baby food "contributes to the normal visual development of infants up to 12 months of age" were rejected by the Environment Committee in a close vote on Wednesday. MEPs believe more research is needed on the effects of DHA supplements. To stop the health claim being permitted, this vote needs to be confirmed by Parliament as a whole. A plenary vote is scheduled for April.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is a fatty acid naturally occurring in breast milk. Many baby milk formulas include it as a synthetic additive. Manufacturers applied for permission to make the health claim for DHA added to baby food, including follow-on formulae, for infants from 6-12 months. 

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) gave a favourable opinion on the application, and the European Commission proposed to add the health claim "DHA intake contributes to the normal visual development of infants up to 12 months of age" to the list of permitted claims. Parliament has until 21 April 2011 to block the claim, if it so wishes.

The committee yesterday recommended, by 30 votes in favour to 28 against,  that Parliament should not authorise the health claim. To prevent the claim being authorised, this vote needs to be confirmed by  Parliament as a whole, in a plenary vote that is planned for the 4-7 April session.

The resolution, drawn up by Glenis Willmott (S&D, UK), Daciana Sarbu (S&D, RO), Nessa Childers (S&D, IR) and Karin Kadenbach (S&D, AT), argues inter alia that there is no scientific consensus on the effect that DHA-fortified formulae have on infants, that more research is needed on the possible effects, both beneficial and harmful, of DHA supplements, and that the health claim could be misleading.

"Regulatory procedure with scrutiny" and entry into force

The procedure for authorising health claims is a strict one, which includes adding the claim to the relevant annex of the EU "Regulation on nutrition and health claims". Parliament or the Council may block such measures under the "regulatory procedure with scrutiny".

The EFSA is responsible for evaluating food manufacturers' health claim applications on the basis of "generally accepted scientific evidence". Under EU rules, no health claims can be made for food intended for babies from birth to 6 months.

If not opposed by Parliament, the regulation authorising the health claim would enter into force 20 days after its publication in the Official Journal of the European Communities. Member States would have to enforce the relevant rules to prevent the claim being misused as an advertising ploy to consumers.

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