BABY MILK EYESIGHT CLAIM CHALLENGED BY NORTH EAST EURO-MP

Stephen Hughes, Labour Euro-MP for the North East region is campaigning to block a potentially misleading health claim about formula baby milk in a crucial vote next week.

The Labour politician is fighting to persuade other members of the European Parliament to join him in challenging a baby milk manufacturer's marketing claim that a fatty acid called DHA will help the development of children's eyesight when delivered through formula milk.

While the claim has been approved by an EU committee set up to regulate health claims of this sort, scientific opinion is divided and Stephen Hughes is concerned that parents could be misled.

The claim will be given a green light by the European Commission unless enough MEPs join Mr. Hughes in calling on officials to hold off until there is scientific consensus on the subject. The crunch vote will take place on Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

Speaking ahead of the vote, Stephen Hughes said: "Parents will always want the very best for their children, which is why we should be extra careful about scrutinising claims like this one. We want to be sure that there is solid scientific evidence to back up any claim that a particular product is the healthier option for our children.

"In this case it is clear that there isn't scientific consensus so I'm backing consumer and medical groups in urging the European Commission to hold off on approving this claim.

"I know that baby milk manufacturers have been putting enormous pressure on EU officials over this matter, but I don't want parents in the North East to be misled.

"It is clear that many doctors are still unconvinced and I won't be backing a claim of this nature until I can be reassured that the science is clear.

"On top of all this I know that many doctors have important ethical concerns. They argue that if DHA really is proven to have the same benefits in bottled milk as it does in breast milk then it should be included in all products, not simply left to manufacturers to use as a marketing gimmick. We need to have a proper debate about these issues."

NOTES FOR EDITORS

European rules are in place to ensure that food manufacturers cannot make misleading health claims about their food. This claim was approved in December by an EU committee, but that decision was controversial with some committee members refusing to back the claim.

The claim concerns the use of DHA in follow-on formula milk for infants aged six months and older. DHA is naturally present in breast milk and is known to help with the development of eyesight in breast-fed babies. However, formula milk is known to have different properties to breast milk and studies are less clear about whether DHA brings the same benefits when delivered by the bottle.

A variety of consumer groups and medical professionals have questioned whether the claim should be approved, including the Chair of Nutrition at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Euro-MPs are entitled to challenge the committee's decision, but with many MEPs on the right of the parliament backing the food industry's stance, it is expected to be a tight vote.

The vote itself is scheduled to take place on either Tuesday 5 or Wednesday 6 April.

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