A long history of safety scares

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The scare over phthalates in infant formula milk is just the latest in a series of fears over the safety of children's food.

Last June the Ministry of Agriculture announced that it would investigate research from New Zealand which suggested that soya milk extract could lead to raised levels of compounds known as phytoestrogens, which have been linked to declining sperm counts and raised infertility.

Research suggests that the amounts of powdered milks recommended by manufacturers could be the equivalent, weight for weight, of feeding an infant more than three contraceptive pills each day.

Earlier in 1995 mothers were urged to breast-feed their babies after a study showed formula milk could affect brain cells. It was claimed that powdered milk might not have enough fatty acids, which play a vital role in neurological development.

Fears of tampering started in April 1989, when it was feared that ground glass had been put in babyfood.

A pounds 100,000 reward was offered at one stage and a former Scotland Yard detective was arrested in connection with a pounds 1m extortion racket from Heinz. Rodney Whitchelo was eventually sentenced to 17 years and Heinz estimated they had had to withdraw babyfood worth pounds 30m from shelves.

In June 1993 80,000 jars of Cow and Gate babyfood were cleared from shops because it was feared they may be contaminated with disinfectant. It was thought to be traced to a Dutch slaughterhouse.

Heinz also had to recall 150,000 cans of babyfood after six mothers reported finding pieces of metal in their children's meals.

And in 1992 medical experts called for babyfood containers with anti- tampering devices to be made safer after a baby almost choked when he inhaled part of one.