Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Nestlé adds excessive amount of sugars to baby food in low-income countries: report

An alarming report by Swiss nonprofit Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) has accused global food giant Nestlé of adding excessive amounts of sugar to its baby food products sold in low- and middle-income countries.

Double standard exposed

The investigation found that Nestlé’s popular baby food brands, including Cerelac instant cereal and Nido powdered milk, contained up to 7.3 grams of added sugar per serving in countries like Thailand, Ethiopia, South Africa, India, and Bangladesh. In contrast, the same products sold in Europe often contained zero added sugar.

“Nestlé’s harmful double standard contributes to an increase in obesity and leads children to develop a lifelong preference for sugary products,” the report stated, denouncing the company’s practices. Experts warn that added sugars can increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems, potentially setting children up for life-long preferences for unhealthy, highly processed foods.

Regulatory scrutiny and calls for action

The report’s findings have sparked outrage and prompted calls for investigations from officials in India and Bangladesh. In the Philippines, where the Cerelac brand contained the highest amount of added sugar at 7.3 grams per serving, a bill prohibiting additional sugar in baby food is pending in the Senate.

Albert Domingo, a senior Philippine Health Department official, called the findings “disturbing,” especially since the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends against added sugars in complementary foods for children under two years old.

Nestle’s defence and promised reforms

Nestlé defended itself, stating that variations in sugar content across countries depend on “several factors, including regulations and availability of local ingredients.” The company claimed this does not “compromise the nutritional value of our products for infants and young children.”

However, the researchers from Public Eye argued that Nestlé’s own website advises against added sugar for children, contradicting its practices in lower-income countries.

However, Nestlé said it has reduced added sugars in its infant cereals portfolio worldwide by 11 percent and is phasing out added sugars from its “growing-up milk” for children aged 12 to 36 months.

Broader concerns and consequences

The report adds to growing concerns about the health impact of Nestlé’s products, which prompted activist shareholders to demand a vote on the issue at the company’s recent annual general meeting.

“There is a double standard here that can’t be justified,” said Nigel Rollins, a WHO scientist, commenting on the study.

With Nestlé controlling 20% of the global baby formula market, the implications of its practices in lower-income countries are far-reaching and potentially devastating for child health and well-being.

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