Friday, October 14, 2016

Goat Milk for Baby

I saw the news on TV that a popular infant formula was being recalled.  Several websites followed up:  “Sammy's Milk baby food has been recalled due to the possibility that bacteria may be present in the formula. Graceleigh, Inc. recalled the baby food over the bacteria Cronobacter. The bacteria can cause severe and sometimes fatal blood infections or meningitis in infants.”

Normally I would not take notice, but they showed a picture of the container and I was struck by all the “magic” words on the label. My impression was that they were trying to lure well-intentioned mothers into buying this brand as a noble and loving act, demanding only the best for their baby, while probably overspending for minimal benefits.  Some research was in order.

The first trigger word on the label was non-GMO:  What does that mean?  A retired farmer and third-year graduate student in molecular and cellular biology at Dartmouth College has a lot to say about it in this Forbes article.  “Today, U.S. dairy farms need only 8.5 million cows to produce more than twice as much milk as dairy farms did in 1940 with 26 million cows. Crops developed through genetic engineering have played a role in that progress. Contrary to the claims of those whose ideology opposes scientific progress, the consumption of plants developed by genetic engineering have no negative effect on milk quality or safety.”  He later concludes, “the claim that ‘GMOs are in your milk’ is false – there are no plant genes of any kind in any milk, just some fragments of DNA.”

Next is the guarantee of it being gluten-free.  Is there usually gluten in milk?  “Other than the gluten-containing grains, all other unprocessed, whole foods are gluten-free. According to, milk is one of these gluten-free, whole foods. Non-fat, low-fat, whole milk and cream are gluten-free, as long as they're unflavored, plain, white milk.”

So far they don’t really have to do anything special to make the first two claims.

Next on the top banner is a comment about Omega Ratio, but a healthy omega ratio is still a matter of debate.  I doubt one in a hundred new mothers even knows what it is, but it sure sounds healthy and reassuring!

Below the brand it says “pediatrician recommended,” but it doesn’t say how many and endorsements are not evidence.  I do remember this fact from my entry here back in July:  “According to this article in The Pediatric Journal, “there are no data supporting the presumed health benefits” of a gluten-free diet.  “Gluten-free packaged foods frequently contain a greater density of fat and sugar than their gluten-containing counterparts, which can lead to problems for children such as obesity and new-onset insulin resistance.”

“Furthermore, a gluten-free diet for children can delay a real diagnosis of celiac disease, which has been linked to anemia, osteoporosis, diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease and intestinal cancers.”  But since milk doesn’t ordinarily contain gluten, it’s a moot point – except that, again, mothers should be wary of, rather than drawn to such a label.

Below that it says “DHA & prebiotic blend for brain, eye and immune system development."  It’s hard to find information on this that is not advertising, but one reference describes a study showing DHA supporting immune systems in healthy children, not necessarily development.  WebMD tells us that DHA, an Omega-3 fatty acid is “thought to be important to the development of infants, particularly as regards their eyes and brain. DHA may improve vision and some cognitive functions in infants and toddlers” [emphasis added].  None of this is as definitive as the label makes it sound.

Finally, comes the cost of all these goodies.  The details on Sammy’s website promise 20 servings per container for $29.95.  Let’s call it $1.50 per serving.  Similar formula in my local grocery store, which is also gluten-free and non-GMO and contains DHA, sells in packages 80% larger for about half the price.  That’s about 40 cents per serving for substantially the same thing.

So you can pay about four times as much for the luxury brand that touts itself as supposedly the very healthiest option and feel good about doing the loving, caring thing, but at a cost of more than a dollar a feeding.

I have absolutely no experience with baby formula, but when I see the obvious come-on words, trigger words, for that or any other product, I immediately get suspicious.  It would be smart for more people to do so.  Marketers of all goods are not interested in educating us, just selling us their product.  And the easier it is to play on emotions of pride, guilt or anxiety, the more they can get away with.  In the battle to protect ourselves against such manipulation, critical thinking is key.

By the way, the FDA also mentions that the recalled baby food “may also not provide a sufficient level of iron.”

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