The Food and Drug Administration is launching a probe into the claims made by manufacturers of formula and specifically formula containing omega-3 fatty acids or Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). As Kimberly Seals Allers writes in Women’s E News, infant formula companies have marketed such products as “just as good” as breast milk for years, to the point that one mother told a lactation consultant that she wanted to use “the formula with breast milk in it.”
There is absolutely no such thing. But infant formula companies have been claiming that products containing omega-3 fatty acids or DHA are “better than breast milk,” says The Atlantic. Noting that the composition of all infant formulas is highly regulated because, for those infants given formula, it is their sole food, Marion Nestle professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, emphasizes that all infant formulas have the same composition, and all are virtually indistinguishable.
Nestle quotes the following three paragraphs from a chapter of her book What to Eat in which infant formula is discussed:
Competition for market share explains why formula companies want to put distinctive nutrients in their formulas-especially nutrients considered “conditional.” A conditional nutrient is one that might have some benefits under some circumstances. Even if the health benefits are minimal or questionable, they can be used in advertising.
That is the principal reason why so many formulas now have fatty acids added–omega 6 arachidonic acid (ARA) and omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid–the same one that is in fish oil. These two fatty acids are normally present in breast milk, and there is some evidence, weak and questionable as it may be, that they support infant brain development and vision.
Formula makers got the FDA to agree that ARA and DHA are normal components of food (which they are) and, therefore, are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). This means that companies could add ARA and DHA to infant formulas without having to prove that either of them really did anything useful or beneficial.
Currently, there are no clinical studies published that support the claims that omega-3 fatty acids in infant formula have ‘any long-term beneficial effects.’
Adding omega-3 fatty acids does have the effect of manufacturers raising the price on their formula. Whereas, if you breastfeed, the cost is (ok, there is the price of the breast pump and those plastic bags to store your milk in), basically…free.
As Allers — who, like Nestle, myself, and countless other women, offers three cheers to the FDA for the probe of infant formula companies’ claims — writes:
I can certainly understand the business dilemma of the formula makers: There is no money to be made from breastfeeding. Plain and simple.
When your No. 1 competition is free, and you can’t compete on price, you have to be creative. Really creative. And even misleading.
Photo by Roebot.