Australian baby formula reportedly contains toxic nano-particles

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"If it’s dangerous in toothpaste, it should certainly not be in infant formula," says Friends of the Earth, who commissioned the tests. Read the full story here.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) wants three popular brands of infant formula in Australia taken off the shelves, after they were found to contain potentially toxic nanoparticles. 

According to reports by Channel Nine News, news.com.au, and the Sydney Morning Herald, the tests – conducted by an expert team in nanotechnology at Arizona State University – discovered that three of seven samples of formula tested contained  potentially toxic 'needle-like' nano-hydroxyapatite particles. 

In animal testing, these particles have been found to damage the livers and kidneys of rats. 

Even though hydroxyapatite occurs naturally in bones, FoE say that when included in food, it is synthetically produced and "presents serious health concerns due to its very small size."

“Due to their very small size, nanoparticles have been demonstrated to be more likely than larger particles to enter cells, tissues and organs,” says the organisation. “They can be more chemically reactive and more bioactive than larger particles of the same chemicals.”

The three brands they've called out are Nestle NAN H.A. Gold 1, Nature's Way Kids Smart 1 and Heinz Nurture Original 1. 

FoE has asked that Australian and New Zealand food safety regulating body Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) should recall the affected brands immediately. 

"Babies are particularly vulnerable to food safety risks since their immune systems are still developing," FoE said.

"Often infant formula is the only food an infant receives. FSANZ needs to immediately recall these products."

The group has also recommended that FSANZ should test all other baby formula brands on sale in Australia for hydroxyapatite or other banned substances, say news reports. 

No real danger?

Despite the warning by FoE, FSANZ reassures consumers that the baby formula brands under question pose no risk to the health of little ones drinking it. 

"Carers of infants should not be alarmed by this report or concerned about the safety of these products," they said in a statement on Sunday.

They also quote several Australian experts in their statement. 

Here are some extracts of these quotes: 

Adjunct Professor Andrew Bartholomaeus, consultant toxicologist, University of Canberra, University of Queensland. 

"The Friends of the Earth slide deck presents the rather unexciting and facile observation that a food containing high levels of calcium and phosphate and undergoing a variety of processes during production has a small quantity of calcium phosphate crystals (Ca apatite).

"Regardless of the provenance of the observed material, calcium apatite is a normal human component of teeth and bones and small quantities of nanoparticulate deposits of this material can be found in normal human tissue.

"Calcium apatite is also soluble in acidic conditions so the small quantity of the material present in infant formula would dissolve into essential nutrients and cease to be nano...

"There is no evidence to indicate that nano dimensions of particulates are of themselves a risk to human health, and normal human breast milk is composed of a nano material (casein protein agglomerates)..."

Professor Ian Rae, expert on chemicals in the environment and Honorary Professorial Fellow in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. 

"This is a classical NANO SCARE. The clue that the investigators are pushing an agenda is in their repeated use of the phrase 'needle like' to describe the crystals of hydroxyapatite. It's a 'dog whistle' for 'you will be feeding your babies sharp objects if you use these products'. 

"The truth is that these particles are the natural form of hydroxyapatite and they dissolve easily in the acids of the digestive system. Moreover, the particles are extremely small – much smaller than the diameter of a human hair – and they make up a tiny proportion of the products.

"The use of all that analytical chemical firepower might serve to over-awe the non-expert reader. Anyone who understands them and can assess the numbers will just ask 'so what?'"

What about formula in Singapore?  

theAsianparent contacted Nestlé Singapore for a statement in relation to the FoE report: 

We have received your query on the presence of nano-particles. Please note that the quality and safety of our products are non-negotiable priorities for our company. All of our products are safe to consume.

We are aware of the test commissioned by the Friends of the Earth in the US on the presence of nanoparticles in certain food products. Nanoparticles are particles of microscopic size that can also occur naturally and commonly in the environment. The term “nano” is strictly an indicator of the size (a nanometer is one one-billionth of a meter).

Engineered nanoparticles are intentionally produced at the nano-scale and designed with very specific properties related to shape, size, or surface properties. We do not use engineered nanoparticles in our products. 

The production process of some of the ingredients used in our products might generate a fraction of particles in the nano-size even if they are not engineered to be at that scale, as they may also occur naturally.

We only use certified food grade ingredients and we have a strict quality control process in place for our raw materials and our finished products. We only release product batches for sale after extensive testing in our factory to ensure that they meet our own high quality standards and comply with all applicable local and food safety laws and regulations

- Nestlé Singapore spokesperson.

 

To read the FoE report, click HERE

To read the FSANZ statement, click HERE and HERE

 

References: Channel Nine News Australia, The Sydney Morning Heraldnews.com.au