Labour backs pesticide ban in baby foods

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The Independent Online
BABY foods and other products containing pesticides are to be banned from British shelves, under a new European law backed by the Government.

The move comes after spot tests by the Ministry of Agriculture found pesticide residues - including the toxic pesticide lindane - in several brands of baby food and powdered milk sold to UK mothers.

The veto, to be formally approved in the New Year, has been prompted by the EU's scientific advisers who warned that the current minimum acceptable levels of pesticides, may be inadequate "for the protection of the health of infants and young children".

The Government's advisers on pesticides have put infants in an "at risk' group because "their food intake is high and their body weight is low".

The new directive means that only the lowest detectable level of pesticides - 0.01mg/kg - will be acceptable for baby and toddler foods and infant formula sold in Europe.

Europe has decided not to eliminate traces completely to allow for a tiny margin of error in testing.

Last year scientists from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Health and Safety Executive found traces of fungicides, organochlorines and insecticides in random samples of baby food and formula sold in UK shops.

In three out of 20 samples, traces of endosulfan, used to kill insects on bananas, grapes, carrots and cabbages and other vegetables, were found. It is a highly toxic product and chronic effects have been observed in animals exposed to it.

Half the samples of infant formula from the UK showed small traces of lindane, which has been banned or tightly restricted in 37 countries and which has been linked to breast cancer, aplastic anaemia and the birth disorder which involves multiple congenital abnormalities.

Campaigners warn that as baby food or formula is usually the only source of infant nutrition the effects of pesticide residues - as yet unknown - could be far more harmful to small children than to adults.

"At long last the EU is acting to effectively ban pesticides in baby foods," said Patti Rundall, policy director of Baby Milk Action. "Baby foods are promoted to parents as pure and safe but all the while they contain these contaminants."

Around 60 per cent of baby foods on the European market will not meet the new standards. The law will not come into force until the end of 2001, giving companies time to adapt.

But British manufacturers believe they already meet the stringent criteria. A Cow & Gate spokeswoman said: "We fully support the proposed legislation and we have every confidence that our products will reach the standards. Over 95 per cent of our products already meet the legislation."

Heinz, which, with its subsidiary Farley's, is the leading producer of toddler and baby food in Britain, said that it already applied the standards.

Dr Nigel Dickie, nutrition consultant to Heinz, said: "The standards being proposed already apply to our baby food. This will not pose a problem for Heinz and Farley's."