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GPs join calls for caution on soy milk for infants

Wednesday, 3 November 1999

Dr Ralph Wiles Chairperson

For immediate release

New Zealand's General Practitioners have joined the British Food Commission, and American nutrition foundation the Weston A Price Foundation in cautioning against the use of soy milk as an infant feed "other than in very exceptional circumstances".

"While the Ministry of Health is correct when it says that soy milk provides a useful alternative for babies who cannot tolerate dairy-based infant formulas, what they don't emphasise is that this represents a very small number of infants," explained Royal NZ College of General Practitioners Chairperson Dr Ralph Wiles.

"The debate on dairy milk formula vs soy milk also risks drawing attention from the best sustenance of all breast milk," he pointed out. "Society as a whole needs to do much more to practically support women's choice to breastfeed, with everything from trained facilitators to a campaign promoting breastfeeding as a healthy, natural activity. That anyone can still object as from time to time we read of them doing to a woman discreetly breastfeeding a baby in a public area is unbelievable.

"If breastfeeding isn't possible, then formulas derived from dairy products offer an inferior alternative, but still one that is preferable to soy milk given that dairy based infant formulas have been manipulated by the manufacturers to make them somewhat better, nutritionally, than raw cow's milk," Dr Wiles said.

"Only if those first two options have been tried, or at least properly considered with advice and support from a health professional, should soy milk be considered for infants who are definitely intolerant of dairy based formulas.

"Until the viability of soy products has been much more thoroughly and independently researched, it is unwise to encourage their use in opposition to dairy based formulas or, worse still, breast milk. If parents want to use their children as guinea pigs, and aware they're doing so, fine. But what's needed is some reliable evidence on which we can base an opinion and at present it's simply not there.

"Asian countries rely heavily on soy based products of all kinds. That would presumably be a good place to start research. How much soy is in an Asian infant's diet and what is the long-term comparative health effect?

"We await those sorts of findings. Until then, the British Food Commission and the Weston A Price Foundation are right to counsel extreme caution. And the Ministry, while technically right in what it says, should perhaps be exploring the idea of a major publicity campaign, along the lines of other public health campaigns on alcohol and cigarettes, to encourage breast feeding by new mothers. Such a campaign should also aim to raise awareness breastfeeding amongst the wider population of the benefits, so other people then support and encourage it."


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