LONDON (Reuters) - Nestle will respond in the coming days to a research report into its baby formula that accused the world’s largest packaged food company of putting profit before science.
The report by the Changing Markets Foundation said Nestle has many inconsistencies across its world-leading range of formula products and casts doubt on the credibility of some of its health claims.
“The report raises important points, which we want to assess in detail,” a Nestle spokesman said. “We will respond to the concerns and recommendations of the report in the coming days.”
Nestle’s baby formula marketing practices first came under fire in the 1970s over accusations it was discouraging mothers, especially in developing countries, from breast-feeding, which is cheaper and healthier than using formula.
One group launched a Nestle boycott that lasted seven years until 1984.
The report, released on Thursday, said it looked at the infant milk products Nestle sells for babies under 12 months old in 40 different countries, comparing the marketing claims and ingredients in more than 70 products.
It comes against the backdrop of an unrelated baby milk health scare involving France’s Lactalis.
The report said that sometimes Nestle’s products contradict its own health advice. For example, it said some Nestle formulas sold in Hong Kong are marketed as healthier for not having any added vanilla flavouring, while vanillin compounds were found in several other products in Hong Kong, mainland China and South Africa.
It also calls out Nestle for using health claims, such as for probiotics and prebiotics, around the world that were prohibited by European health regulators for lacking sufficient scientific evidence. It said several products claim to be “the closest to breastmilk” yet each have different ingredients.
“The report concludes that Nestle is not driven by nutritional science but instead by a sharp and prioritised focus on profit and growth at the expense of infants and their parents,” the report said.
It called on Nestle to conduct an independent review of its global product range, which includes brands such as S-26 Gold, Nan, Illuma, Nido and Gerber.
Nestle said it provides “products that are safe and as nutritionally complete as possible, and ensure the composition is informed by the best available science”.
The company, which also makes KitKat bars and Nespresso coffee, is trying to remake itself as a “nutrition, health and wellness” company.
The Changing Markets Foundation is a Dutch group that says it promotes campaigns to address sustainability challenges by trying to shift business away from companies with unsustainable products.
Reporting by Martinne Geller; editing by David Goodman and Jason Neely