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UNICEF, WHO China on Contaminated Infant Formula

UNICEF and WHO China Statement on Contaminated Infant Formula

(25 September 2008, Beijing)

UNICEF and WHO Offices in China have observed with great sadness and concern the unfolding story of tainted infant formula produced by Sanlu and other companies. Whilst any attempt to deceive the public in the area of food production and marketing is unacceptable, deliberate contamination of foods intended for consumption by vulnerable infants and young children is particularly deplorable.

We are confident that swift and firm actions are being taken by China’s food safety authorities to investigate this incident fully. We also expect that following the investigation and in the context of the Chinese government’s increasing attention to food safety, better regulation of foods for infants and young children will be enforced.

Global health authorities agree that breastmilk is unquestionably better for infant feeding than any infant formula. No infant formula contains the perfect combination of proteins, carbohydrates and fats to enhance infant growth and brain development as breastmilk does. No infant formula contains antibodies to protect infants against infection as breastmilk does. No infant formula is as safe to administer as breastmilk is. And no infant formula is as affordable to families as breastmilk is, providing the perfect nutrition for infants while protecting them from infections.

Ideally, all infants should be fed exclusively with breastmilk for the first six months of life. No other liquid or food, not even water, is needed during this period. Thereafter, infants should receive adequate and safe complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed up to at least the age of two years.

Working mothers who cannot breastfeed during working hours can express breastmilk and save it in a clean container for feeding the child whilst she is away. Breastmilk can be stored safely for up to eight hours at room temperature. The mother should breastfeed normally when she returns home. In this way the infants of working or temporarily absent women can continue to receive the benefits of breastmilk.

Every mother should be counseled during antenatal, delivery and postnatal care on the benefits of breastfeeding, for her baby, and for herself, and should receive skilled support to initiate and sustain breastfeeding. Parents should also be made aware that infant formula can be tainted or contaminated during its manufacture, preparation and use, as shown by this and other alarming examples not only in China but all over the world. For the few women who for medical or other reasons cannot breastfeed, or for those who choose to introduce formula some time after delivery, a decision to use a substitute to breastmilk should be supported by a sound assessment by qualified health staff, and considerations of safety and cost.


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