Thursday, February 17, 2011

Health claims on baby milk must not be misleading

This week in Strasbourg I discussed my proposal to stop a misleading health claim on formula milk for babies with my Democratic Socialist colleagues and I'm now writing the resolution which could stop the claim in its tracks.

What I'm worried about is a claim that the European Commission has decided can be displayed on follow-on formulas and foods for babies, saying that adding a fatty acid known as DHA to the formula or food improves the vision of babies. DHA is found naturally in breast milk, and, in breast milk, is known to be important in the development of children's eyes. However, the synthesized DHA which is added to formula milk is different. Formula milk producer Mead Johnson has applied to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for permission to use the health claim, supporting their cause with evidence they have carried out themselves. Much of the decision making has been made behind closed doors by a specialist committee, and we were recently told that the health claim would be allowed.

However, an independent review of all the available evidence on DHA in formula milk in 2008 found that adding DHA to formula milk "had no proven benefit regarding vision, cognition or physical growth". Furthermore, a recent study found a possible link between being given DHA in formula milk and increased blood pressure later in life. Clearly the scientific basis of the claim needs to be reviewed.

Our children's health is too important to be left in the hands of a multinational company's marketing department. If an ingredient is genuinely found to be beneficial and risk free then it should be an obligatory ingredient in all formula milk, and not be used as a marketing ploy by a specific brand.

In order to reverse the decision the resolution I am drafting must be passed by the European Parliament's Environment and Public Health Committee, and then adopted by a majority of all 736 MEPs. If you agree that we can't take any chances when it comes to children's nutrition then please write to all MEPs in your area urging them to back my resolution.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Working together to prevent cancer

Today is World Cancer Day. Sadly many of us have been touched by cancer in one way or another, with cancer accounting for a quarter of all deaths in the EU. However up to 40% of cancers are preventable, and we have a lot of work to do in raising awareness of how smoking and drinking, diet and exercise and staying safe in the sun can be factors in the development of the disease.

This Wednesday I hosted an event in the European Parliament to mark World Cancer Day. Although it is the governments of EU countries which have overall responsibility for health policies, we know there is still a vital role for the EU in preventing cancer.

One example would be something I'm doing presently, as the lead for the Socialist and Democrats group on the Food Information proposals. I am fighting for it to be obligatory for food manufacturers to state the amount of calories, salt, sugar, fat and saturated fat their products contain on the front of the pack. Unfortunately I have lost my battle for a mandatory colour coded 'traffic light' scheme for now, but this is something I will continue to campaign for. If we're serious about people making healthier choices then it is crucial we inform people of what's in the food they're buying, because we know that poor nutrition and obesity can be a factor in the development of many cancers.

Later in the year we are expecting to see the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive, which covers maximum amounts of things such as tar and nicotine allowed in cigarettes and other tobacco products. It also regulates the way tobacco companies can present and package their products, including the written health warnings. I am calling for standardised cigarette packages which would have to display a large image warning of the effects of smoking, and the banning of chemicals which make cigarettes 'smoother' or improve the flavour. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable cancers, so the legislation must be more effective at discouraging people to smoke, especially young people.

The EU is a great forum for us to learn from each other, to raise awareness, and to coordinate research. It is important that we work together to reach our shared goal of beating preventable cancers.