McMahon: ‘conspiracy of silence’ over baby feeding

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

McMahon: ‘We aim to provide a formula as naturally close to breastmilk as possible’
McMahon: ‘We aim to provide a formula as naturally close to breastmilk as possible’
Correct feeding from birth should be subject to a full government inquiry as part of its drive to tackle child obesity, the boss of the UK’s only producer of infant feed formula has claimed.

There was a “conspiracy of silence” ​preventing open debate around the ‘breast is best’ advice for mothers who can't, don't, or won't breastfeed, Ross McMahon, chief executive of Kendal Nutricare argued.

Furthermore, all baby formula milk ingredients should be reviewed by Public Health England (PHE) following recent cases of babies having adverse reactions to three new Aptamil recipes, he suggested.

Last week, hundreds of parents took to social media to criticise the Danone product. According to public health charity First Steps Nutrition, the change in Aptamil’s whey:casein ratio, from 50:50 to 60:40, “could potentially have an impact on an infant’s stooling and digestion”​.

In response, Danone said Aptamil had gone through extensive quality and safety checks including clinical trials, and product testing in more than 1,000 babies.

Making the changes clearer

Following its own investigation, the company acknowledged it could have made the pack changes to formula and mixing instructions clearer, and would take action to do so (see box).

McMahon believed, however, that there wasn’t a level playing field when it came to the quality of formula baby milk on the UK market. There needed to be more transparency around ingredients and health implications, he added.

“Government statistics show that less than half of new mothers are still breastfeeding after eight weeks and with some 700,000 births a year – that's an awful lot of new mums who need open and honest advice on the alternatives,”​ he said.

“And with PHE issuing advice on how we should be tackling the country's growing obesity problem with correct feeding from birth, we need a full public inquiry into this critical issue.”

Mahon, a double award winner at last year’s Food Manufacture Excellence Awards​, said he would like to see the country of origin stated on all infant formula packaging sold in the UK.

Packed in Poland and the Netherlands

Currently, formulas packed in Poland and the Netherlands were labelled with UK addresses. This, he claimed, suggested the company was UK-based.

Mahon explained that he was “fully supportive of breastfeeding”​, acknowledging that “every mother’s breastmilk is like a fingerprint – completely unique to her”​. 

“But, for the many thousands of mothers who are unable to or simply don’t want to breastfeed we aim to provide a formula as naturally close to breastmilk as possible,”​ he said. “And, for us, that means no palm oil and using mammal’s milk fat with all the nutrients of full cream, which we bonus pay our UK farmers to increase.

“For a long time, bottle feeding has been a taboo subject. Finally, we can discuss the subject and start to educate consumers on the ingredients that go into the production of baby infant formula.”

“On top of that, there really is no need for supermarkets to sell ‘hungry’ or ‘comfort’ formulas if created with good, wholesome, expensive full cream powder”.

Aptamil: Danone’s response

We have completed our investigation into these products:

  • We reviewed our factory records and all safety and quality standards were met, including the 31 tests we run on every batch that leaves the factory.
  • We assessed how the product mixes at a wide range of temperatures and using different methods. We know that the manufacturing process has changed the characteristics of the powder, requiring a slightly different approach to dissolve and reconstitute the formula. We have good mixing results when the product is mixed in line with our new instructions.
  • We acknowledge that with hindsight we could have made the on-pack changes to the formula and mixing instructions clearer and we will take action on this.

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