Caring for our children
The hidden perils of baby foods
© Robert Anderson PhD
Originally published in Organic New Zealand, September/October 2004, Vol. 63 No. 5
After decades of ignoring children’s unique vulnerability to pesticide and chemical exposure, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)[i]recently mandated more consideration of safety issues as they pertain to children’s health.  While this is encouraging, ONZ’s resident chemist, Dr Bob Anderson says children’s vulnerability continues to be ignored when listing chemical ingredients on product labels.  It’s vital, he says, to remember that a  child is not an adult in miniature
   Mothers, making every possible effort to give only the best care to their infants, are constantly subjected to the blandishments of an advertising industry whose priorities lie elsewhere.
   The food industry aims at making products look and taste appealing.  Loaded with chemical additives and often designed to be addictive, processed food is manufactured first for profit.  Consideration to nutritional value is secondary.
   Over 14,000 (man-made) chemicals are now added to our food supply.  While these products are often damaging to an adult, they are even more so to children or babies.  Most food and drug testing focuses on adult consumers and three-quarters of all drugs marketed today do not carry Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved labels for use in neonates and infants.  (The US FDA is the de facto global arbiter of food and medicine safety).
   Indeed, only five of the 80 drugs most frequently used on newborns are labelled for use on children.  The simplistic standard dosage measured as “milligrammes per kg of body weight” gives no cognisance whatsoever to the immune system of a child compared to that of an adult.  A drug commonly used to stave off premature birth, Terbutaline, for example, may leave the brain of a child susceptible to other chemicals ubiquitously present in the environment.  This may explain why babies of mothers given Terbutaline can suffer cognitive deficiency.[ii]
   Unfortunately, in the case of foodstuffs and their contaminants, we are even more ignorant than in the case of drugs – and probably less protected. 
   Children are exposed to food chemicals from infancy, and their bodies are not capable of breaking down these novel chemical products. 
   A particular area of concern is that “product safety” is judged only on the active ingredient.  The testing of so-called “inert” ingredients is not required, yet any request as to the nature of the inert ingredients is always treated as being “commercially sensitive.”
   One of the most commonly used ingredients in agriculture and household pesticide products is Piperonyl Butoxide (PBO).  PBO is a synergistic chemical frequently used in agriculture and regularly found in such items as tomatoes, peas, sweet potatoes, spinach, peaches, strawberries, peppers and grapes.  It is known that PBO inhibits the activity of a variety of enzymes which have many functions, including the breakdown of toxic chemicals by our bodies, and transformation of important hormones.  It also interferes with cholinesterase activity and can increase the neuro-toxicity of other compounds such as methylmercury[iii](frequently found as Thimerosol in infant vaccines.)  It also interferes with human lymphocytes (blood cells that help fight infections).[iv]
   Food additives are not natural products of nutrition and pesticide residues even less so.  It is common knowledge that many approved food additives weaken the immune system and some damage mucous membranes.[v]  Tartrazine is a suspected trigger in asthma attacks.[vi] Without doubt children suffer the most from them.
   Although sometimes a little more expensive, it pays to make your baby’s foods and children’s lunches using organic produce so that you know what they are getting.  In Parliament recently, Sue Kedgley asked Health Minister, Annette King, to tell New Zealand parents the names of four infant formulae that tested positive for genetically modified soy.  The Minister of Health declined to name them, saying the review was a routine audit, and as the genetic modification found was approved by FSANZ, and was well below the 1%  threshold where labelling of unintentional GM presence was required, the products did not break the law.
   Sue Kedgley challenged the Minister’s stance, arguing that parents feeding their babies soy infant formula “have a right to know whether their infant formula contains unlabelled genetically engineered (GE) soy, especially as GE soy has never been tested on humans, or tested for its long-term health effects?” 
   Indeed they should. 
   Never before has food been subjected to such precarious meddling:  freeze dried, homogenised, genetically engineered, and/or precooked.  The small print on our food packaging reads more like rocket fuel than food for human consumption, with unpronounceable chemical names labelling compounds manufactured in the cauldrons of industry.
   We cannot conclude talking of food safety without reference to the latest food study carried out by the NZFSA.  This was a disingenuous attempt to give the impression that our food is ‘squeaky clean.’  As a Soil and Health Association press release said:  “Independent analysis of the Government’s latest Total Diet Survey confirms the NZFSA report fails New Zealand children.[vii]”  S&H co-chair, Steffan Browning, pointed out that two thirds of the 63 foods tested contained chemical residues and in some cases all brands were contaminated. 
   The report was calculated to give consumers the impression that NZ food is 99 percent residue free.  Organic NZ studies showed that in fact 19 foods had multiple residues, ranging from three in some wheatbix brands, through to 11 in muesli, and 14 in the raisin/sultana samples. 
   What is more worrying is that only estimates were relied on to give “safe limits” and effects due to multiple contaminants.  As we have said, these have synergistic effects and often serve to amplify the carcinogenic and/or endocrine disrupting influences of each other.  A whole list of these offensive chemical residues can be obtained from the FSANZ.[viii]  All of these residues add to the toxic loading which we carry, and for children that can and does frequently prove too much.  Frequently, retired nurses accost me after my talks with comments such as, “cancer in children was virtually unknown in my day.”  Having witnessed the disastrous effects of spray residue upon one of my own children, I am only too well aware of the damage and subsequent heart-break it can cause.
   There is little doubt in my mind that the chemicals finding their way into children’s lunches and worse, into baby foods, will continue to result in our escalating childhood cancer and other serious illnesses.
Breast Remains Best
   A survey carried out by scientists at Nottingham Trent University found disease-causing microbes in several dried baby food products.  The research team tested powdered infant formula, dried infant food and milk powder from seven countries, including the US.  More than 200 samples were analysed for the presence of  bacteria.  Of the 82 infant formula samples, 10% contained gut bacteria, as did almost 25% of 49 dried infant food samples.  Among the bacteria found was a bacterium called Enterobacter sakazakii which can cause fatal meningitis.  Thirteen of the bacterial species they identified, including E. sakazakii, are associated with gastroenteritis.
   In another study of infant foods made from powder formulas, researchers found it took only half an hour for bacteria in the formulas to double in number when left at room temperature.  If kept refrigerated, it took 10 hours for the bacteria to double.  Researcher, Dr Stephen Forsythe, says it means formula baby foods prepared in advance could go from containing very few bacteria to harbouring dangerous levels overnight unless they are stored in the refrigerator.
   The best method of all, and the most hygienic, is to breast feed.  Not only are valuable nutrients passed to the baby, but many of the protective components present in the mother’s milk.  For some ridiculous reason, breast feeding is still taken by some mothers as “not cool.”
   Dr Isabelle Romieu, of the Instituto Nacional de Salud Publica, Morelos, Mexico, among others, has noted that when examining the association between breastfeeding and chronic respiratory disorders in children there is a marked improvement for breast fed infants.[ix]  Of 5182 Brazilian schoolchildren and their parents in one study, 4.6 percent reported medically diagnosed asthma, and 11.9 percent reported current wheezing.  The low prevalence of asthma seen in the studied population, researchers concluded, “may be partly related to the high level of breastfeeding.”[x]  The researchers found that children who had not been breastfed were 1.51 times more likely to have asthma.
Commonly used food additives to avoid among others (see 
  • Acesulfame K;
  • artificial colourings;
  • aspartame;
  • BHA and BHT;
  • caffeine;
  • monosodium glutamate (MSG);
  • nitrite and nitrate;
  • olestra;
  • sulphites.

(For the natural sugar substitute - zylitol and zylitol products - enquire at
Robert Anderson BSc (Hons), PhD - 4 February 1942 to 5 December 2008
Robert Anderson was a Trustee of Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility (formerly Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics) He authored The Final Pollution: Genetic Apocalypse, Exploding the Myth of Genetic Engineering and several other publications on environmental, health and social justice issues. 
View his lectures on this website

Address enquiries for Robert Anderson's publications currently in print to


[i]              Environmental Protection Agency
[ii]             “Beyond Pesticides”  NCAMP, mtaylor@beyond pesticides., April 15, 2004
[iii]           Cox C, “Piperonyl Butoxide” J. of Pesticide Reform, NCAP, 541-344-5044, Vol. 22.,2002
[iv]             ibid
[v]           Tartrazine. viz KJ No.1040
[vi]            Collins-Williams C. “Clinical spectrum of adverse reactions to Tartrazine.” J Asthma 1985;22(3):139-43.
            see also: Freedman BJ. Asthma induced by sulphur dioxide, benzoate and Tartrazine contained in orange drinks”.J. Clin. Allergy 1977;7(5):407-15.
[vii]            “Food Safety Study Hides the State of NZ Food” press release Soil & Health Assn of NZ 15 June 2004
[ix]            Journal of Asthma, October 2000
[x]              J Asthma 2000;37:575-583.