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The Reason Nestlé Wants Less Protein In Baby Formula

Food giant Nestlé have made an application to reduce the minimum requirement of protein in baby formula in Australia and New Zealand -- what does this mean for babies?

In an application to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) -- the body responsible for developing food codes -- Nestlé called for protein requirements in follow-on formula to be reduced.

The company want to reduce the requirement from 0.45 grams per 100 kilojoules to 0.38 grams.

Follow-on formula is typically used in infants from six-months-old and is generally used as complementary nutrition to food or breast milk and for this age group formula is not recommended as the sole source of a baby's nutrition.

Nestle is not applying to change its newborn formula.

Nestlé state that this change would align more closely with protein levels in breast milk, which tends to fall naturally in the second half of the baby's first year of life.

This is in line with the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Infant Feeding Guidelines -- these suggest that "preference should be given to formula with lower protein levels".

It sounds as thought FSANZ is on board although it is calling for industry comment.

“FSANZ reviewed the best available scientific evidence to determine whether the reduced protein level protects the health and safety of formula-fed infants.

We concluded that the requested minimum protein requirement (0.38 g/100 kJ) for milk-based follow-on formula is appropriate and safe," its CEO Mark Booth said.

Karina Savage, director of Smartbite Nutrition Consulting, told 10 daily that she supports Nestlé's changes to the protein requirements because excessive protein intake in the first two years of a child's life has been linked to a significantly increased risk of obesity in childhood.

READ MORE: Australian Researchers Starving Tough-To-Treat Breast Cancer Cells"Reducing the concentration of protein in baby formula will equate to health benefits as these children grow up," Savage said.

A 2014 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that infants on high-protein diets were likely to be round 700 grams heavier than their low-protein counterparts and recommended lower-protein content in infant formula to reduce school-age children's body mass index.

Baby Sling
Image: Getty Images.

The quality of protein in breast milk is much higher than that in baby formula, so companies have historically relied on boosting the amount of protein to match natural breast milk's high "biological value", according to Savage.

"The challenge that formula companies face is achieving the same quality whilst reducing the protein concentration," said Savage.

Natural breast milk contains proteins such as alpha-lactalbumin, lactoferrin, osteopontin, and milk fat globule membrane proteins.

The amino acid concentrations in the formula forms of these proteins are lower than those found in breast milk -- which is still recommended as the singular most beneficial source of nutrients for babies under six months of age.

Savage said that there is limited risk in Nestlé reducing the protein in baby formula and in the meantime, mothers should be looking for a follow-on formula with a lower protein concentration.

"They can compare different brands by checking the protein content per 100 grams on the nutrition table on the tin."

READ MORE: 'Lifesaving': Breast Milk Bank Opens To Help Desperate Parents And Babies

Internationally, the ingredients in Nestlé's baby formula have attracted criticism this year, with a report from the Changing Markets Foundation accusing the company of failing to deliver on a 2018 promise to remove vanilla flavouring and sucrose from their formula products.

While a Nestlé spokesperson told 10 daily that flavourings are not permitted in infant formula in Australia so none of their products contain vanilla or sucrose additives, Changing Markets Foundation stated that they continue to sell this formula in South African, Chinese, and Hong Kong markets.

Image: AAP.

The  Nestlé spokesperson said that the company is in the "process of finding alternatives" and are now removing the vanilla flavouring in new labels.

“I encourage all interested stakeholders to provide comments by 6pm (Canberra time) 13 June 2019," Booth said.

All FSANZ decisions on applications are notified to ministers responsible for food regulation who can ask for a review or agree that the standard should become law.

Contact the author escott@networkten.com.au