Bryony Moore takes a close look at the companies trusted to provide nourishment for babies and toddlers.
By far the best scoring companies on the table are those whose baby food is organic and contains the least ingredients. At over two quid for a tiny tub of mushed-up frozen organic carrot, parents are certainly paying to guarantee they’re feeding their baby the healthiest option available. But the ones making a killing at babies’ expense are the companies who will add just about anything to their baby food, including massive amounts of salt, sugar and artificial flavourings, not to mention trans-fats.
Total sugar content is restricted for babies’ puddings, desserts and drinks. For cereal-based baby food however, different rules apply. Only sugar added during manufacture is restricted – not the total amount. So baby foods containing natural sugars as well as added ones can have a really high sugar content. See ‘Links’ for Which? research on the sugar content of baby foods.
And NGO the Food Commission in the UK found that HiPP Organic biscuits had more sugar in them (21%) than a doughnut (19%) even though they were labelled ‘sugar reduced’(.)4
Food campaign group Sustain has warned that parents are unwittingly feeding their babies and young children products worse than junk food. In an audit of more than 100 products marked for infants and children it was found that a Heinz Farley’s Original Rusk biscuit contains more sugar than a dark chocolate digestive. Toddler’s Own mini cheese biscuits, also by Heinz, have more saturated fat per 100g than a cheese burger – admittedly in servings that contain only 1.8g saturated fat each. Cow & Gate reacted to the audit by announcing that it would discontinue its Baby Balance biscuits after Sustain revealed they contained trans-fats, which are linked to coronary heart disease.(5)
Several of the companies we’ve covered in this buyer’s guide have received negative scores in the Habitats & Resourses and Climate Change categories. This is because they either use unsustainably sourced palm oil or have no policy stating that they don’t. With certified sustainably sourced palm oil now on the market there is no excuse for companies using this most destructive of crops. Both baby milk and food may contain palm oil – it is often simply called ‘vegetable oil’ on ingredients labels.
Hero, Danone, Heinz and John Wyeth (owned by Pfizer) receive negative marks in the Genetic Engineering column because they don’t have policies excluding the use of GM ingredients in their products while operating in a sector where the use of GM is common.
It should be noted that EU law states that any GM ingredients in food products should be labelled as such, and we are not aware of any baby food on sale in the UK carrying this label.
The larger baby milk companies often also make other medical products. This will be of concern to animal lovers as these companies are usually testing at least some of their products on animals.
Due to limited space we’ve only covered nationally available brands in this guide. However, there are several regional food companies producing mail order organic baby food. Some of them only deliver locally and in so doing are helping reduce unneccesary food miles. The ones we found all have websites and you can order online or by phone.
Packing a punch
For parents who want only the best for their baby, an obvious choice is organic baby food with the absolute minimum of ingredients. But what about the packaging this organic baby food comes in? Campaigners are currently working hard to ban the use of packaging chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) which is in the epoxy resins that line most food and soft-drink cans and is also used to make the hard plastic called polycarbonate for food containers, and often, baby bottles.6
Independent research has linked BPA to heart disease and diabetes in humans, and a wide range of diseases in lab animals. Last year the US National Toxicology Program studied 261 scientific publications on BPA. It reported: “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A,” but “neglible concerns” over exposure in pregnant women or reproductive effects at consumer levels of exposure. This directly contradicts a recent assessment by the US Food and Drug Administration that the chemical is safe at current levels of exposure.(7)
However, big companies using the chemical are campaigning hard to convince governments that it’s harmless. In May this year, according to the Washington Post, industry executives met “to devise a public relations and lobbying strategy to block government bans” of BPA, with $500,000 on the table for PR budget “to defend their industry”. Canada has banned BPA in baby bottles, but the US Food and Drug Administration “has deemed it safe largely because of two studies, both funded by a chemical industry trade group,” said the Post. At the meeting, industry executives described their ‘holy grail’ spokesperson as a “pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA”. Industry representatives also suggested “using fear tactics” – like asking, “do you want to have access to baby food anymore?” – and framing the opposition to BPA bans as “giving control back to consumers”.
Vegetarian or Vegan?
For baby food the following do vegetarian varieties: So Baby, Plum Baby, Organix, Bebivita, Cow & Gate, Heinz.
The following do vegan varieties: Ella's Kitchen Truuuly Scrumptious, Hipp.
The most obvious way to avoid all the pitfalls of the baby food and milk manufacturing industry is to DIY it – breastfeed and make your own baby food at home. This method cuts out all the middle men – food miles, cheap labour, possibly harmful packaging, not to mention worrying ingredients. It isn’t always an option for the modern family, but if you choose to do so there are plenty of resources available. Find recipes and more information online at:
Hero, owner of Organix Brands, also owns several non-organic food companies across the world. It, along with the following four other companies, picks up marks under Human Rights for operating in oppressive regimes: HiPP,(19) Groupe Danone,(20) HJ Heinz(21) and Wyeth.(18)
• Baby Milk Action
• Baby Feeding Law Group
• Save the Children campaign
4 ‘Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules’, IBFAN, 2007
5 Sustain: Some baby foods worse than junk food The Times 04/05/09
8 ‘Strategy Being Devised To Protect Use of BPA’ www.washingtonpost.com, 31/05/09
9 www.menopauseonline.com: Wyeth suffers a reverse in Little Rock breast cancer case, 15/10/09)
10 Email from PETA representative 19/10/09
11 www.business-humanrights.org ‘Wyeth drug tests fall foul of watchdog’ 15/10/09)
13 www.danone.com 12/10/09
14 www.milupa.com 12/10/09
16 www.business-humanrights.org ‘Danone-Argentina: Closed down due to contamination’ 13/10/09
17 Corporate Watch 22, Feb-March 2005
18 www.hero-group.ch 21/09/09
19 www.hipp.de 8/10/09)
20 www.hoovers.com:Groupe danone company factsheet 12/10/09
21 HJ Heinz Company Corporate Communications:Heinz Corporate Profile 26/10/09).