Baby formula claims part of “scare” agenda: experts


An environmental activist group has claimed popular Australian baby formulas contain “needle-like” nanoparticles that are toxic to cells, inciting pressure for recalls

Friends of the Earth says it has found nano-hydroxyapatite particles in three out of seven infant formula products in independent testing commissioned by the group.

It claims that food-grade nano-hydroxyapatite presents severe health concerns due to its very small size and “needle-like” structure.

Nanotechnology and molecular sciences expert Dr Emad Kiriakous supports the findings, pointing out that nano-hydroxyapatite’s “needle-like geometry [has shown] … cell-specific cytotoxicity.”

The nanoparticles have also previously been deemed unsuitable for use in toothpaste and mouthwash by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) due to potential toxicity.

Friends of the Earth cites the European Commission, saying the nanoparticles have been found to cause cell death in rat kidneys and livers, and outlines the prohibition of the nano-hydroxyapatite in consumables in accordance with the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

However, toxicology experts disagree with the research conclusions.

Professor Andrew Bartholomaeus, a consultant toxicologist and former chief toxicologist at the TGA, describes the observation of hydroxyapatite in food as “unexciting and facile”, claiming that it “is a normal human component of teeth and bones and small quantities of nanoparticulate deposits … can be found in normal human tissue.”

Dr Ian Musgrave from the University of Adelaide’s School of Medicine claims the presence of hydroxyapatite in milk-based dried infant formula is unsurprising, as it is one of the forms of calcium phosphate in milk and that “there are no significant public health implications”.

And Professor Ian Rae, an advisor to the UN Environment Programme on chemicals in the environment, describes the repeated use of the phase “needle-like” by Friends of the Earth as pushing an unjustified scare and furthering their own agenda.

The FSANZ, which the Friends of the Earth previously cited, refutes the claims of toxicity and affectation on infant health, claiming “there is no new evidence to suggest these products pose a risk to infant health and safety”.

It says parents and carers should not be alarmed or concerned regarding the safety of infant formula products.

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2 Comments

  1. Jeremy Tager
    05/07/2017

    Thank you for a balanced piece on the presence of nano-hydroxyapatite in baby formula. We do, however, take issue with some of the scientists who have inaccurately attacked Friends of the Earth and made claims of safety that the evidence simply does not support.

    Friends of the Earth is accused of ‘repeated’ use of the phrase ‘needle-like’ in an attempt to scare parents. Firstly, we note that this is the scientific term for the structure of this particular nanomaterial. In our media release and our online story we use the term ‘needle-like’ once.

    FSANZ, Musgrave and Rae all assert the safety of baby formula that contains nano-hydroxyapatite. This directly contradicts the only comprehensive scientific review of nano-hydroxyapatite that has been undertaken. The European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) made two findings: that nano-hydroxyapatite is ‘potentially toxic’ based on the results of a study of rats showing nano-hydroxyapatite in needle-like form caused liver and kidney cell death. Secondly, the SCCS said that was insufficient data to make a finding of safety. Musgrave, Rae and FSANZ provide no new evidence or data upon which to base their claims of safety.

    It is important to note that FSANZ itself has said that nano-hydroxyapatite is not permitted in baby formula. Although the agency has now pulled down the web page containing this statement. This prohibition is based on the legal requirement that only ingredients that have been properly tested and found safe can be used in baby formula. Despite FSANZ’s about face, nano-hydroxyapatite is still not permitted in baby formula and still has not been demonstrated as safe. Repeated assertions are not the same as evidence – and currently the evidence suggests nano-hydroxyapatite should not be used in baby formula.

    Jeremy Tager, Friends of the Earth Australia

  2. Jeremy Tager
    05/07/2017

    Thank you for a balanced piece on the presence of nano-hydroxyapatite in baby formula. We do, however, take issue, with some of the so-called experts who have inaccurately attacked Friends of the Earth and made claims of safety that the evidence simply does not support.

    Friends of the Earth is accused of ‘repeated’ use of the phrase ‘needle-like’ in an attempt to scare parents. Firstly, we note that it is the scientific term for the structure of this particular nanomaterial. In our media release and our online story we use the term ‘needle-like’ once.

    FSANZ, Musgrave and Rae all assert the safety of baby formula that contains nano-hydroxyapatite. This directly contradicts the only comprehensive scientific review of nano-hydroxyapatite that has been undertaken. The European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) made two findings: that nano-hydroxyapatite is ‘potentially toxic’ based on the results of a study of rats showing nano-hydroxyapatite in needle-like form caused liver and kidney cell death. Secondly, the SCCS said that was insufficient data to make a finding of safety – exactly what the experts and regulators here are saying but with no new evidence or data upon which to base such a claim.

    Finally, it is important to note that FSANZ itself has said that nano-hydroxyapatite is not permitted in baby formula – although they have now pulled down the web page with this statement. This prohibition is based on the legal requirement that only ingredients that have been properly tested and found safe can be used in baby formula. Despite FSANZ’s about face, nano-hydroxyapatite is still not permitted in baby formula and still has not been demonstrated as safe.

    Repeated assertions are not the same as evidence and currently the evidence says it should not be used in baby formula.

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