Sex-change chemicals in baby milk

Alarming levels of chemicals that could impair human fertility have been found in leading brands of baby milk on sale all over Britain.

Ministry of Agriculture officials have secretly met manufacturers to get them to trace the source of the chemicals, which in animal tests have been found to shrink testes and disrupt female reproductive systems. The makers' trade association says it is "very concerned".

The chemicals, phthalates - widely used to soften plastics, especially PVC - are one of the groups of substances at the heart of scientific anxiety about rapidly falling human sperm counts, female infertility and cancer, and about weird developments such as the feminisation of male gulls, fish and other wildlife.

Ministry of Agriculture scientists have found phthalates in every sample they have tested from nine leading brands of baby formula milk, and from mixtures of six other brands. The levels of the chemicals found in the milk are worryingly close to those discovered, in experiments, to reduce the size of testes and cut sperm counts in rats.

The scientists estimate that new-born babies, fed on the milk, would receive on average 0.13 milligrams of phthalates each day for every kilogram of their body weight. This is above the lowest level at which just one of the phthalates in the milk was found to damage the testicles of baby rats in experiments carried out by the Medical Research Council last year.

The results are not strictly comparable because the rats were exposed to just one phthalate - the only one so far to be tested at low levels on animals - while babies are receiving several different phthalates in the milk at once. Some of these may not be as harmful as the one that damaged the rats, although others have also been shown to affect reproduction at high doses.

Whatever the true level of danger, it is very much higher than that normally allowed for toxic substances, which are usually not permitted to exceed 100th of the doses found to damage animals in laboratory experiments.

Professor John Sumpter of Brunel University, an international expert on the effects of "gender-bending" chemicals, says there is "cause for concern" for babies as a result of the narrowing of the safety margin.

Gwynne Lyons, scientific adviser to the World Wide Fund for Nature and a member of a government round-table investigating the chemicals, says: "Offspring are being put at risk from chemicals that are inadequately tested and inadequately controlled."

Publicly, the Ministry of Agriculture seeks to play down the danger from the chemicals, saying that levels in the baby milk are below official Tolerable Daily Intakes (TDIs). But it admits that these TDIs were set before evidence was found of the chemicals' potential effects.

Privately, officials have met the Infant and Dietetic Foods Association, representing the manufacturers, to get them to identify the source of the contamination. The association, while insisting that the ministry had said the levels were "not likely to be dangerous", says it is "very concerned" and "will seek to reduce all levels of phthalates in baby foods".

But neither the association nor the ministry will reveal the names of the brands tested or the levels of the chemicals found in them. The association says the information is "commercially sensitive".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower