FDA Formula Probe Is Good News for Mothers, Babies

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Food and Drug Administration will be looking into the health claims of infant formulas. Kimberly Seals Allers says it's about time, since these deceptive claims often mislead moms into thinking formula is just as good as breast milk.

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'Conditional' Nutrients Pushed

Meanwhile, market competition pushes formula companies to improve their product by adding so-called nutrients--especially the ones that can be considered "conditional" by the FDA. A conditional nutrient is one that might have some benefits under some circumstances. Even if the health benefits are minimal or questionable, they can still be used in advertising.

As a result, many formulas have added fatty acids such as omega-6 arachidonic acid (ARA) and omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)--the same ones that are found in fish oil. These two fatty acids are naturally present in breast milk and are reported to help infant brain development and vision.

But here's what happened behind the scenes: Formula makers were able to get the FDA to agree that ARA and DHA are normal components of food (which is true) and therefore are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). Once the nutrients had this designation, companies were then free to add ARA and DHA to infant formulas without having to prove that either of them really did anything useful or beneficial.

But the mere mention of such additives gave formulas breast milk cred. Even worse, instead of marketing formula as a safe alternative if you can't breastfeed, they tried to make it appear just as good as breastfeeding for all mothers.

I mean, why bother to breastfeed if I can give my child the same nutrients from formula, a mother could reason.

The problem is, you can't.

And it's high time the government stopped allowing deceptive marketing of formula at the cost of infant and maternal health.

If you agree, please join me in letting the FDA know that this study is welcome and long overdue. You can also file comments at Refer to Docket No. FDA–2011–N–0098


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Kimberly Seals Allers is an award-winning journalist and editorial director of the Black Maternal Health project at Women's eNews. A former senior editor at Essence and writer at Fortune, she is the founder of, a parenting destination for African Americans, and author of "The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy" (Amistad/HarperCollins) and two other Mocha Manual books.

For more information:

File Comments, Docket No. FDA–2011–N–0098:

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