Tories are 'losing control' on milk milk

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The Independent Online
The Government was accused last night of "losing control" over the baby milk alert as thousands of worried parents jammed telephone lines, deluging doctors and advice groups with calls.

The Consumers' Association called for a full inquiry into the handling of the affair by Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) and even a leading manufacturer of baby food described it as "confusing".

While it emerged that milk from all the major manufacturers had been found to contain levels of phthalates, which have been linked to impaired fertility in rats, the ministry still refused to name the brands involved.

The British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing joined the calls for the full results of the tests to be published. A spokeswoman for the BMA said: "We fear there will be a flood of parents coming to doctors expecting expert advice and information and the GPs will only know what has been published in the media."

With the Government apparently incapable of dealing with the scare or allaying parents' fears, it was left to Dr Richard Sharp, man who first made the connection between the chemicals and reduced fertility in rats, to try to calm the situation. "I think these scares have no solid foundation," he said. "I hope that is some reassurance to mothers who are bottle- feeding their babies. I think the last thing mothers should contemplate doing is changing to something less appropriate."

But Sandra Rote, the RCN's Community Health Adviser, said: "We are receiving a steady stream of calls from nurses desperate for authoritative advice. Nurses are in the front line of reassuring anxious mothers and feel seriously let down by the lack of information."

Two mothers picketed the ministry's building in Whitehall to demand information. Lauren Bromley-Hodge, who feeds her six-month-old daughter, Hannah, on formula milk, said the Government's refusal to publish the information was "criminal". Veronica Wagner, mother of seven-month-old Ashley, described the situation as "Russian roulette".

"This is not like the BSE scare, where people can decide not to eat beef," said Ms Bromley-Hodge. "Milk is the mainstay of our children's diets. This is the future of our children we are talking about. [The ministry] just don't care."

Labour's consumer affairs spokesman, Nigel Griffiths warned that there was "danger of public concern spiralling out of control".

Even Neil Bowen, marketing director of Cow & Gate, one of the four leading manufacturers, said: "Unfortunately, the way the information came out was confusing, and that certainly hasn't helped."

But he added: "There's no need to be concerned ... There is really no point in naming individual brands, partly because they're all safe, partly because all brands were included, and partly because what we don't want to do is encourage mothers to needlessly switch from one brand to another, or from one brand to cow's milk." Chemical ban ahead, page 3