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
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links