Monday, May 26, 2008

Organic Baby Formula

I got this in an email and thought it was worth sharing after hearing about how important organic food is all weekend at the Autism One Conference:

The article is from Julia Moskin from the New York Times:

Amy Chase started feeding Similac Organic infant formula to her second son, Amos, as soon as he was born in November 2006."When I saw the organic at Publix, I bought it, no questions asked,"said Ms. Chase, a self-described "yoga mom" in Atlanta.Like Ms. Chase, many American parents have rushed to embrace Similac Organic formula, even though it sells for as much as 30 percent more than regular Similac. In 2007, its first full year on sale, it captured36 percent of the organic formula market, with sales of more than $10million, according to Kalorama Information, a pharmaceutical-industry research firm. (Similac's parent company, Abbott Laboratories, does not release sales figures for individual products.)

Parents may be buying it because they believe that organic is healthier,but babies may have a reason of their own for preferring Similac Organic: it is significantly sweeter than other formulas. It is the only major brand of organic formula that is sweetened with cane sugar, or sucrose, which is much sweeter than sugars used in other formulas. No health problems in babies have been associated with Similac Organic. But to pediatricians, there are risks in giving babies cane sugar: Sucrose can harm tooth enamel faster than other sugars; once babies get used to its sweeter taste, they might resist less sweet formulas or solid foods; and some studies suggest that they might over eat, leading to rapid weight gain in the first year, which is often a statistical predictor of childhood obesity.

Asked about these concerns, Carolyn Valek, a spokeswoman for Abbott Nutrition, the division of Abbott Laboratories that makes Similac Organic, said that sucrose had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and was considered "safe and well established." Ms. Valek said that Similac Organic had no more sweetener than other formulas and that prolonged contact with any kind of sugar could cause tooth decay. In Europe, where sudden increases in childhood obesity are a pressing public health issue, sucrose-sweetened formulas will be banned by the end of 2009, except when ordered by a doctor for babies with severe allergies. The 27 countries of the European Union adopted the new rules according to the recommendations of the group's Scientific Committee on Food, which found that sucrose provided no particular nutritional advantages, could, in rare cases, bring about a fatal metabolic disorder, and might lead to overfeeding.

The F.D.A., however, which regulates infant formula, does not specify which sugars can be used, as long as they are already classified as safe. Nor does it set the amount of sugar per serving, as it does for fats and proteins. Still, a number of pediatricians said they were surprised by the choice of sucrose."I would be very concerned about this as a pediatrician," said Dr.Benjamin Caballero, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and an expert in risk factors for childhood obesity. "The issue is that sweet tastes tend to encourage consumption of excessive amounts," Dr. Caballero said. Evidence shows that babies and children will always show a preference for the sweetest food available, he said, and they will eat more of it than they would of less-sweet food."This is how breakfast cereal manufacturers compete," he said.

Ms. Valek of Abbot Nutrition said the company did not "optimize for taste" when developing infant formula. "Our primary focus is to support normal growth through optimal nutrition and quality ingredients," she said. Organic formula, with sales of about $20 million annually, makes up only a sliver of the $2.5 billion formula market, according to A.C. Nielsen,the market research company. Similac Organic, analysts say, is largely responsible for the nearly ten fold growth in sales of organic formula from 2005 to 2007. According to the federal Department of Agriculture,which regulates organic labeling, a product can be labeled organic when 95 percent of its ingredients are grown without the use of certain pesticides and herbicides. All infant formulas contain added sugars, which babies need to digest the proteins in cow's milk or soy. Other organic formulas, like Earth's Best and Parent's Choice, use organic lactose as the added sugar. Organic lactose must be extracted from organic milk, the global supplies of which have been severely stretched in the last three years, driving up the price of the lactose.

I do like a lot of the organic products. I didn't use formula, so I didn't have this dilemma, but it makes me wonder if other "organic" food is really the best choice. At least the pesticides aren't in there! I think I need to be more careful about what I buy.

-NewsAnchorMom Jen


Shannon said...

If I'm correct, this is a shortened version of what appeared in the New York Times. I read it in its entirety and there were several things I found very interesting.

It seems to me that the bottom line is about making more money. Abbott knows that if they slap the word "organic" on the label, they can charge more. Just like how they charge more (or used to, when it first came out) for the formula that had DHA added to it. Never mind that studies showed that the DHA used in formula (derived from seaweed) does not have the same benefit as the DHA found in breastmilk. It was a way for them to prey on parents who are trying to do the best for their babies and believed it was somehow better.

Lots of "organic" stuff is not really, I guess this is just a case of buyer bewared. It's a long list, but it's probably worth reading all the ingredients on that formula can.

It seems to me that organic lactose would be the best option, but it is cost-prohibitive so many companies will not use it, despite it being the actual best choice. IMO, sucrose would actually be my second choice. It's still better than high fructose corn syrup, which is still used in many formulas too. said...

I stil have the rest of the article. I can post it too. I just thought it got really detailed and too long for most people. What do you think?

It is too bad if people putting organic on a product just to sell it, but I guess it's not surprising. How do you decide which products are healthier and which ones are just labeled organic?

Maria said...

Not all Organic foods are healthy. You can buy organic potato chips after all, but I do think that Similac does the world a disservice by acting like they do nothing wrong. If I had to use formula (I didn't, haven't and won't), I would have used Earth's Best, most likely, but I can afford to pay the price.

That being said, the carbon footprint of formula is ridiculously large, because they are generated from dairy products (generally).

I decide what to buy by looking at ingredient lists. If it says organic, but contains a lot of crap, I avoid it.

It is a lot harder on me than it is my son. LOL! I crave chocolate or chips on occasion. He doesn't get those foods, because they are not in our house at all. He will, however, chose fruit over a lot of foods. I am lucky in that regard.

Most of our food right now comes from the CSA and Farmer's Market. We don't eat much meat, so that takes that mess away for the most part, and we each cheese and plain yogurt, but a carton of milk will last us a month or more. 17 months and still nursing has some advantages. :)

Anonymous said...

It's nice to see that finally someone is saying that organic isn't all that it's cracked up to be. My husband works in the agriculture industry and we see first hand the benefits of what farmers do.

Maria said...

Really anon? Because that is not what I see in the message at all. Rather it is a message to be aware of what is in products, and that companies are willing to take advantage of uneducated and unaware consumers in order to gain a buck in their pocket.

My dad is a farmer, and yet I chose organic for my family whenever possible (local and organic is ideal and what I get through a CSA these days). Loading up on chemicals, modified foods and crap has consequences, and when you process and over-process any food, you open yourself up to problems. Formula is no exception. Another example is the DHA that is added to baby products (baby food, cereal, formula) these days. Baby gets it naturally through breastmilk, yet when in trying to create that perfect mimic that does not exist, companies have added a version of DHA that is not bioavailable and negatively impacts the health of babies.

Blindly consuming is a problem, and an educated consumer base will force companies to be honest and forthright in their practices.

Shannon said...

Maria, my interpretation was much like yours....

Jen - I didn't mean to insinuate that you should have put the whole article up, it was long! (And generated 144 comments before the NYT shut them down!) I think you did a great job of editing it down and still maintaining the original content...

Momto3ofThem said...

You also have to watch out for arsenic in rice cerals too!

Template by lollybloggerdesigns. Design by Taylor Johnston.