Baby, or infant, formula is a manufactured food for babies often used as a substitute for breast milk. It is a powder or liquid concentrate that is mixed with water and fed through a bottle. It is widely used in Asia, which represents 53% of the global market share. In Hong Kong, a shortage in availability of baby formula led to restrictions on how much could be taken out of the city and into mainland China.
Baby formula is contaminated with aluminium, UK study finds
Research shows all of the UK's top 30 baby formulas contain unacceptable amounts of the metal which is harmful to human health
Infant milk formulas are contaminated with aluminium, which risks serious negative health effects for children and may contribute to ill health as adults, a UK study has found.
The team of researchers at Keele University found that all of the UK’s 30 most popular infant formula brands contained aluminium. An infant feeding on soya-based powders could be consuming as much as 700 micrograms each day.
The European Food Safety Authority, the European Union’s risk assessment body, sets a tolerable weekly intake for aluminium at 1000 micrograms per week for adults. An infant feeding daily on many of the formulas tested would easily exceed that exposure, the study said.
According to Professor Christopher Exley, lead author and an expert on human exposure to aluminium, there is still not enough evidence to set an acceptable intake level.
“Until we do know, then we should adopt a precautionary approach. This is not the approach taken by the manufacturers of infant formula,” he said.
It is the second study on aluminium the team has carried out. In 2010, its research showed that 15 well-known brands of infant formula contained high concentrations of aluminium. The study gained much attention and sparked widespread concern, the Keele researchers say nothing has since been done by manufacturers to reduce levels.
A recent study by the Caroline Walker Trust which showed that 25% of UK parents use formulas as the only source of food for infants from birth and more than 50% of infants of 4–10 weeks of age are fed solely on formulas, inspired the team to follow up on the issue.
In Hong Kong, a 2012 survey conducted by the Family Health Service found more than 85% of parents using follow-up formula.
The UK study lists the aluminium concentrations of all 30 products, including powder and ready-to-drink formula. Aptamil Toddler, Cow & Gate Growing Up Milk and Aptamil Follow-on milk were found to be the worst ready made milks. For milk powder, soya-based products were found to have the most aluminium. Sma Wysoy and Cow & Gate soya contained 656 and 756 micrograms per litre of milk prepared for a newborn child.
“We’re not just exposing adults; we’re exposing the most vulnerable members of our society to higher levels than would be acceptable for drinking water,” said Professor Exley.
Cow and Gate is widely available in Hong Kong supermarkets and pharmacies.
“Clearly the manufacturers of infant formulas are not concerned about reducing their content of aluminium and the extensive use of aluminium-based packaging for infant formulas seems to confirm this,” said Professor Exley.
Cow and Gate had not responded to the South China Morning Post’s request for comment by the time this article was published.
The study calls for legislative mandates and consumer advocacy to protect against chronic aluminium exposure of infants.
After absorption, aluminium distributes to all tissues in animals and humans and accumulates in some, in particular bone. Aluminium consumption has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and associated with other neurodegenerative diseases in humans, according to the EFSA. On their website, however, the ESFA says, “Based on the the available scientific data, the Panel does not consider exposure to aluminium via food to constitute a risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease”.
Professor Exley, has shown through his scientific research that human brains contain substantial amounts of aluminium. According to Exley, there is also evidence that aluminium is neurotoxic.