Nestlé baby products sold in India, Africa, Latin America have higher sugar content than in Europe, tests show

India allows some added sugar in baby food; Cerelac sold in India has 2.7 gms of added sugar, none in the U.K.; Nestle India says it has reduced added sugars in infant cereals by up to 30% over the past five years

April 18, 2024 03:28 pm | Updated 09:10 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The products manufactured by global food and beverage giant Nestle were tested in a Belgian laboratory. Around 150 baby products sold in different counties were scrutinised for the report. File.

The products manufactured by global food and beverage giant Nestle were tested in a Belgian laboratory. Around 150 baby products sold in different counties were scrutinised for the report. File. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Nestle’s baby food products sold in India, as well as in African and Latin American countries, have higher sugar content, in comparison to the same products sold in European markets, according to a report released recently by a Swiss NGO, the Public Eye and International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). 

Around 150 baby products manufactured by the global food and beverage giant and sold in different countries were tested in a Belgian laboratory, according to IBFAN. It was found that all 15 Cerelac products for six-month-old babies, which are sold without any added sugars in the United Kingdom and Germany, contained 2.7 grams of added sugar per serving in India. Products sold in Ethiopia and Thailand contained nearly 6 grams, the report said.

Also Read | WHO warns of too sugary baby foods

Cutting back on sugar

Despite World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations against added sugar in foods meant for children under the age of three years, Indian regulators do allow a limited amount of sucrose and fructose in baby food. In keeping with Indian rules, therefore, labels on Nestle’s baby products for the Indian market clearly show that they contain added sugar.

However, a Nestle India spokesperson responded to the allegations on Thursday, saying that the reduction of added sugars is a priority for the company. Over the last five years, added sugars have been reduced by up to 30% in its infant cereal products, the company claimed. Nestle sold over ₹20,000 crore worth of Cerelac products in India in 2022.

‘No compromise on compliance’

These products are manufactured to ensure the appropriate delivery of nutritional requirements such as protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and iron for early childhood, Nestle India said. “We never compromise and will never compromise on the nutritional quality of our products. We constantly leverage our extensive Global Research and Development network to enhance the nutritional profile of our products. Compliance is an essential characteristic of Nestlé India and we will never compromise on that. We also ensure that our products manufactured in India are in full and strict compliance with CODEX standards (a commission established by WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organisation) and local specifications (as required) pertaining to the requirements of all nutrients including added sugars,’’ it said.

Noting the 30% reduction in added sugars in certain variants so far, the company added: “We regularly review our portfolio and continue to innovate and reformulate our products to further reduce the level of added sugars, without compromising on nutrition, quality, safety, and taste.”

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, which regulates the manufacture, storage, distribution, sale, and import of food articles, while also establishing standards to ensure food safety, said that it is looking into the IBFAN report.

Obesity, sugar addiction

Arun Gupta from the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) said that children below the age of two years should not be given any additional sugar or salt in their diet. “This predisposes them to non-communicable diseases, the burden of which is growing in India. Our own government surveys have warned of the growing obesity volume among children. All regulatory organisations in India have advised against adding sugar and salt to processed baby foods in India,” he said.

He explained that regulations in India do allow the use of sucrose and fructose as a carbohydrate source, provided it makes up less than 20% of the carbohydrates in the food product.

WHO has warned that the introduction of added sugar in baby foods can contribute to the development of addictive eating habits and a preference for sweet tastes from an early age. It also called on countries to reduce free sugar intake in children and adults to 10% of their total energy intake.

‘Double standards’

Hepatologist Cyriac Abby Philips, who debunks medical misinformation on social media under the moniker The Liver Doc, accused Nestle of “double standards” in his post on X.

‘’Nestlé baby food - Cerelac has global retail sales of above one billion U.S. dollars. The highest figures are in low- and middle-income countries, with 40% of sales just in Brazil and India,” he said. “Guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) notes that to prevent obesity and chronic diseases, no added sugars or sweetening agents should be permitted in any food for children under three. But Nestlé, the world’s largest consumer goods company, adds sugar and honey to infant milk and cereal products sold in many poorer countries - such as those in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Biscuit-flavoured cereals for babies aged six months and older contained 6g of added sugar for every serving in Senegal and South Africa, researchers found. The same product sold in Switzerland has none,” he said.

He added: “Nestlé has double standards for the Western market compared to the Asian market - like children in the developing regions ‘inherently deserve less’ - shameful, pathetic and disgusting. I think it’s time we got back our nutrition, especially for our children, back from locally sourced food sources, rather than depend on the ‘food industry’.” 

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