Nestlé accused of adding sugar to infant products in poorer nations

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Nestlé, the world’s largest baby food company, faces scrutiny after accusations surfaced that it has been adding sugar and honey to its infant milk and cereal products sold in less affluent regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. These allegations come amid rising concerns about the health implications of such additives, especially in infant foods.

Swiss investigative organization Public Eye, in collaboration with the International Baby Food Action Network, conducted a study involving around 100 baby food products from Nestlé sold globally. The findings, analyzed by a Belgian laboratory, revealed the presence of sugar in the form of sucrose or honey in products like Nido, a follow-up milk formula for infants aged one year and above, and Cerelac, a cereal for children between six months and two years.

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Health experts have long advised against the inclusion of honey in baby foods due to the risk of infant botulism, a serious condition caused by bacteria in honey that can produce toxins in a baby’s intestines. Additionally, the World Health Organization has emphasized the need to reduce sugar intake among young children to combat obesity, which is becoming a prevalent issue in low- and middle-income countries.

A stark contrast was noted in the packaging of these products; for instance, Cerelac sold in South Africa contains about six grams of sugar per portion, roughly equivalent to one and a half sugar cubes. However, the packaging of similar products in Switzerland boasts “no added sugar,” indicating a double standard in product formulations between regions.

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Laurent Gabrell, co-author of the Public Eye investigation, criticized the practice, stating: “By adding sugar to these products, Nestlé’s sole aim – and that of other manufacturers too – is to create an addiction or dependency in children, because they like the taste of sugar. And so, if the products are very sweet, they’ll be asking for more in the future.” This statement underscores a broader concern about the potential long-term impact on children’s health and dietary preferences.

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The addition of sugars to infant foods in developing countries, where regulatory oversight might be less stringent, raises significant ethical and health concerns. It suggests a need for more uniform food safety standards globally, particularly for products intended for vulnerable populations such as infants. Nestlé’s approach to sugar content highlights a critical debate over corporate responsibility and public health, especially given the growing awareness of the negative impacts of excess sugar consumption among children.

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