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Ethical Food & Drink – Baby Food

Everyone wants what’s best for their baby, and that usually means the most natural available forms of care and nutrition. There has long been a high level of awareness in Britain about the marketing of baby milk substitutes, but in many countries this is still not the case. When choosing products from the shelves, parents need to be confident that the brands act responsibly, in all areas of production and marketing, both here and abroad.

Breast milk su‍‍‍bstitutes

‍‍‍The WHO/UNICEF International ‍‍‍Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes has been developed in response to serious criticisms of the marketing practices of baby milk and food manufacturers over many years. In response to the massive amount of evidence in favour of prolonged breastfeeding, the Code proposes various guidelines to promote this, including solid foods being labelled as suitable only from six months.

In poorer countries in particular, moving from breast milk to substitutes can have severe consequences for a baby’s health. The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) released a report in 2004 which condemned aggressive marketing from the major baby food companies across the developing world. The report listed Royal Numico’s Nutricia as the second-worst violator of the code, behind Nestlé, but companies including Hipp Organics and HJ Heinz were also listed (see for more details). 

Different kinds of foods

Baby food comes in three main types:

  • ‘Wet’ foods, which are pre-cooked and puréed meals packaged in jars or cans
  • ‘Dry’ foods, in boxes or sac‍‍‍hets, which have to be rehydrated to make meals
  • Cereals, rusks and rice cakes, eaten plain or with milk

The companies included in the table above produce a combination of these three types – check their websites for more information.

Organic brands

Parents are increasingly looking for organic food for their babies. These are guaranteed to be free from the pesticide residues, growth hormones and nitrates that can appear in conventionally-grown foods. They also contain fewer artificial additives, such as E-numbers and flavourings.

There are now exclusively organic companies such as Baby Organix and Hipp, while Heinz and Boots also produce their own organic ranges. The Organic Baby Book lists the different organic brands available in the UK.

One strong argument in favour of buying organic food for babies is that they are more vulnerable than adults to toxins such as pesticide residues. This is partly because they eat more food in proportion to their overall body weight than adults, meaning that they will be exposed to a relatively higher level of chemicals.

Labellin‍‍‍g ‍‍‍and packaging

Since 1999 there has been legislation in Brita‍‍‍in setting compulsory standards for the nutritional value and labelling of baby foods. The regulations set minimum quantities for the main vitamins, minerals and protein, and maximum quantities for fats, carbohydrate and sodium. All the baby food examined by the Ethical Company Organisation’s researchers complied with these regulations. Most of the packaging for baby foods is in theory recyclable, but very little attention is drawn to this fact

Alternatives and niche brands

‍‍‍‍‍‍Baby food can of course be made at home. One simple and healthy process is to liquidise or sieve cooked fruit or vegetables (preferably organic, if available). Some good baby food recipe books are available, including Cooking for your Baby (Lara‍‍‍ine Toms, Penguin), Complete New Guide to Preparing Babyfoods (Sue Castle, Bantam) and The New Vegetarian Baby (Baird and Yntema, McBooks).

Yoghurt and fromage frais makers have entered the baby food market with varieties labelled as being suitable for four to six months. There are also niche brands such as Mother Nature Babyfoods (which produces halal foods), Original Fresh Babyfood Co and Osska. Both of the latter companies make fresh meals that are sold in the cold cabinets of health food stores and supermarkets

Key Research

Below you will find links to the key sections of our ethical research in Food & Drink:

We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Babynat, Baby Organix, Boots, Hipp Organics, Cow & Gate, Farley, Heinz, Milupa

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