Gerber infant formula additive far more troubling than FTC lawsuit over its ads

Posted by
November 4, 2014

babyThe Federal Trade Commission’s just-filed lawsuit against Gerber for not “telling the truth” about its “Good Start” line of infant formulas is just that – a good start.

The agency’s complaint, that Gerber advertised Good Start products as a way to help prevent kids from developing allergies, especially the ones their parents have, is something the FTC says the company can’t prove and can’t say.

“Parents trusted Gerber to tell the truth about the health benefits of its formula, and the company’s ads failed to live up to that trust,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Rich added that “Gerber didn’t have evidence to back up its claim that Good Start Gentle formula reduces the risk of babies developing their parents’ allergies.”

But let’s stop right here, because the ingredient Gerber uses, the one that it believes allows it to make that claim, is something far more dangerous to babies than just deceptive advertising.

In fact, a Food Identity Theft look into this and other ingredients commonly used in baby formulas turns up some issues that should have been the subject of an investigation years ago. One way beyond false advertising claims.

A ‘glutamic bomb’ for your baby

The ingredient responsible for Gerber’s current legal problem is “hydrolyzed whey protein concentrate.” That additive, the FTC says, was cleared by the FDA in 2009 to go along with Gerber’s advertising claim that it will help prevent atopic dermatitis. But the company went beyond that, suggesting that the formula was the first to get FDA approval to reduce an infant’s risk of developing all types of allergies.

But apparently the FDA only gave the green light for that claim if Gerber made it clear that there is “little scientific evidence” to back it up.

But the scientific evidence of just how dangerous whey protein concentrate can be, especially when used in formula (in this case, one given from birth through the first year of life), is there – and has been for some time.

This additive (which is also used in several Enfamil infant formulas manufactured by Mead Johnson) is one of a group of “flavor enhancers” known as “excitotoxins,” forms of free glutamic acid (as opposed to that which is “bound” in natural proteins), the most notorious of which is monosodium glutamate.  And the evidence shows that feeding these “glutamic bombs” (our name for them) to newborns and young children can have a devastating effect on their development, including learning ability and personality.

In fact, monosodium glutamate was voluntarily removed from baby food back in 1969 after a neuroscientist, Dr. John Olney, of Washington University in St. Louis, found that it killed brain cells in the hypothalamus of young animals in lab experiments, as well as causing them to become obese. A Japanese study also found that a diet high in MSG caused severe vision impairment in rats after six months, due to the fact that the eyes also contain glutamate receptors. (This is what makes the Gerber claim that its product helps brain and eye development particularly ironic.)

But that’s not the only hidden danger we found lurking in some current baby-food formulas. Aside from corn-based sweeteners, synthetic preservative and nutrients, there’s both a chemical commonly used to produce some ingredients and another potentially harmful additive that should be setting off alarm bells with parents, and that should be kept as far away from a baby as a lit match.

Stay tuned to see what other products parents and caregivers should be avoiding.