Boots urged to withdraw sugary drink for babies

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Health campaigners called on Boots yesterday to withdraw a 'tooth-rotting' sugary bedtime drink for babies and have complained to the Advertising Standards Authority over the 'extremely hazardous nature' of the product and misleading claims made on its behalf.

The call, by the pressure group Action and Information on Sugars, is the latest move in a campaign that may cost baby drinks companies millions of pounds in damages and is already said to have affected the turnover of one of the market leaders, Milupa.

More than 600 families are to launch a legal action this year against Boots, Ribena, Milupa, Robinson and Cow and Gate, claiming that their children have suffered serious physical and psychological damage through drinking high-sugar drinks.

The group action has been granted legal aid and is being co- ordinated by the firm of solicitors that represented Opren drug claimants and haemophiliacs who received the Aids virus through blood transfusions.

According to Action and Information on Sugars, (AIS), Milupa's turnover fell by 4 per cent last year after damaging publicity in Germany over court cases. Milupa, Nestle and Hipp have all lost cases brought by German families, with compensation averaging pounds 5,000 to pounds 20,000.

Milupa is to introduce a sugarless herbal drink in April. Boots withdrew chocolate malt and chocolate fudge bedtime drinks last November after complaints by health professionals; the company claimed there were 'supply problems'. However, it is persisting with the sale of its Farley's Bed Timers, containing 43.5 per cent sugars.

The campaign includes AIS and six professional bodies representing dentists, health visitors and dietary specialists. They say that 'nursing bottle caries' - also known as 'Ribena caries' - is increasing, with more than 25,000 children a year aged four or under receiving general anaesthetics for tooth extraction.

Jack Winkler, chairman of AIS, said yesterday that sweet drinks 'occasionally or at mealtimes is not going to rot your teeth'. But many babies were given bottles to suck, which produced a characteristic and unusual pattern of rotten top front teeth.

Infection could spread to the jawbone, with teeth decaying as they emerged. The result was 'very disfiguring'. Children with blackened stumps were teased and often refused to open their mouths or smile.

Mr Winkler said that health specialists had made known to the companies their concerns about the effects of sugary drinks as long ago as 1961.

Although baby drinks products carry warnings, they are still promoted as health-giving and 'rich in vitamin C'. Mr Winkler said a typical response from parents was: 'I thought I was doing something good for my child.'

Boots said yesterday it was not in a position to comment.