Israel investigates baby deaths from milk

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The Independent Online

Israeli security services were yesterday investigating the deaths of three babies who were given a kosher baby milk substitute.

Israeli security services were yesterday investigating the deaths of three babies who were given a kosher baby milk substitute.

Twenty Israeli babies have also been admitted to hospital suffering from brain damage after being fed the soya-based milk substitute, which has now been taken off the shelves.

The formula is popular with religious Jewish families and worried parents were gathering at hospitals yesterday.

There are international concerns because some Israelis have sent packets of the formula to Jewish relatives in Europe and the US. The Israeli government has ordered its embassies to spread the alert.

Urgent testing ordered by the Israeli government found that the milk substitute did not contain vitamin B1, which is vital to the development of babies' central nervous systems ­ even though it was listed among the ingredients. The formula is retailed by Remedia, an Israeli company 51 per cent owned by the food giant Heinz.

If Remedia is found to have knowingly or negligently deceived parents it could prove highly damaging. Israelis filed two class action lawsuits against Remedia yesterday, claiming £133m in damages.

The milk substitute is made for Remedia by Humana Milchunion, a German firm. The company said in a statement it "is doing everything it can to obtain information that will clarify the matter. As well as the baby food, the illnesses may have had other causes."

According to Israeli press reports, Remedia hinted it believed the product might have been sabotaged. The Israeli government had ordered the Mossad intelligence agency and the Shin Bet security service to join the investigation, the Health Ministry said yesterday.

An investigation was triggered after an unusually high number of babies was admitted to hospital suffering brain damage symptoms. The only common factor was that they had been fed Remedia milk substitute. The Israeli government ordered that the formula be recalled immediately.

Israeli hospitals have been ordered to give free shots of Vitamin B1 to babies that have been fed the formula, to try to prevent further brain damage.

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