Written by By Emma Libes, for CNN
From contamination, to waste and lack of health screening, the world’s baby food industry is plagued by a litany of issues, a new report has found.
Published by the UK charity ActionAid, “Baby Food Safety: Diabolical Bargains” looked at the 36 brands with the highest levels of adverse reactions to ingredients.
The report outlined the problems that vulnerable and impoverished parents and children suffer because of underfunded and poorly regulated food supply chains.
Vulnerable families are often exposed to the additional risks posed by the industry’s expansion and unregulated market, they added.
The reports’ authors’ investigation revealed that despite the fact the vast majority of food allergens are easy to identify, the baby food industry continues to cut corners for profit.
After investigating baby foods sold in Britain, ActionAid discovered that “some of these companies deliberately sell baby food that is inadequately prepared, packed or labelled, knowingly putting vulnerable babies and children at risk,” the report said.
When these ingredients made it into supermarket shelves, they were often not factored into product traceability, like mandatory reporting for ingredients such as gluten or wheat, it added.
Without laws and regulators in place to monitor and enforce the quality and packaging of foods from the farm to the nursery, the problem is even more widespread, the report said.
Fraudulent nutritional supplements
Through its research and purchase of samples, ActionAid identified that some baby food companies are selling harmful products and providing fraudulent nutritional supplements, the report claimed.
A “wide range of mislabelled, industrially processed, gelatin-based infant formulas” and “significantly more” bags of baby food with a low or zero fat content were found.
While excess amounts of vitamin A were known to cause liver damage, children were routinely ingesting vitamin D, which can affect the kidneys, the report said.
As a result, countries around the world have seen an increase in vitamin D deficiency and respiratory illness, it added.
An independent market research study commissioned by ActionAid found widespread deficiencies of essential nutrients and excessive additives in baby food, it added.
The study found that some baby food manufacturers, including Nestle, Abbott and APN Foods, were responsible for up to 27% of additives contained in the UK baby food market and the US was particularly underregulated, the report claimed.
Baby Food Regulation regulations are consistently inadequate, ActionAid concluded. A full 5% of 558 compliance problems in actionaid’s data went unreported and unrectified. Many serious regulatory issues were not reported at all, the report added.
“Food must be safe for babies and children,” said Akshat Dhingra, ActionAid’s campaigns and policy manager. “Our research shows that despite several years of international efforts to tackle unsafe baby food, the problem is much worse than many realize.”
“Families and children live with constant risks because baby food companies cut corners to cut costs, leave crucial rules unenforced, and because regulators under-reproved the effectiveness of their regulation,” Dhingra added.