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EWG's Guide to Infant Formula and Baby Bottles

EWG's Guide to Infant Formula and Baby Bottles

Summary & Findings
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Liquid infant formula from the top manufacturers is sold in cans lined with a toxic chemical linked to reproductive disorders and neurobehavioral problems in laboratory animals, according to an investigation by Environmental Working Group (EWG). The chemical is almost as common in the packaging of powdered formula, with 4 of the top 5 companies acknowledging its use.

The chemical is bisphenol A, or BPA, a component of the plastic epoxy resins used to line metal food cans. Dozens of laboratory studies show that BPA affects the developing brain and reproductive systems of animals exposed to low doses during pregnancy and early life. BPA has recently raised concerns from 2 separate expert panels of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with 1 group of scientists warning that human exposures to BPA are already at or above the levels that harm animals and another expressing concern about impacts of BPA on infants' brains and behavior.

In October and November 2007, Environmental Working Group surveyed the 5 leading makers of baby formula sold in the U.S. to determine whether they use BPA in their packaging. We found:

  • The makers of Nestlé, Similac, Enfamil and PBM (who make store-brand formulas sold at WalMart, Target, Kroger and dozens of other retailers) all said that they use BPA in the linings of metal cans holding liquid formula.

  • BPA is widely used in powdered formula containers as well. Every manufacturer except Nestlé said it uses a BPA-based lining on the metal portions of their powdered formula cans. Nestlé failed to provide EWG with reliable documentation of their alternative packaging, and thus is not a clear improvement over other types.

  • Powdered formulas are a better choice. Our calculations indicate that babies fed reconstituted powdered formula likely receive 8 to 20 times less BPA than those fed liquid formula from a metal can.

Liquid formula is of greatest concern, and its use could lead to high BPA exposures for babies. Recent studies documenting that BPA leaches out of plastic baby bottles prompted a run on glass bottles by concerned parents. But testing by EWG and by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicates that under normal use, liquid formula itself could expose an infant to substantially more BPA than a plastic bottle. <See the graphic> An August 2007 investigation by EWG estimated that at BPA levels found in ready-to-eat liquid formula, 1 of every 16 infants fed the formula would be exposed to the chemical at doses exceeding those that caused harm in laboratory studies.

The safest choice is clear: Breastfeed your baby whenever possible.

Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for babies. It contains essential fatty acids that help bolster babies’ bodies against the impacts of toxic chemicals. However, there are many reasons why families rely on formula for some or all of their baby’s diet. Seventy percent of babies in the U.S. receive some formula by the time they are 3 months old. These babies need a safe and healthy source of food, and formula should be manufactured in a way that avoids contamination with harmful chemicals.

If your child is fed infant formula, you can reduce BPA exposure by choosing powdered formula.

Nestlé, makers of Good Start and Mam brands, repeatedly told EWG researchers that its powdered formula cans contain no BPA. Nestlé's emails to parents repeat this claim, but the company has failed to document this in writing or provide information on their alternative to EWG, despite our numerous requests to the company. In any case, EWG cannot recommend Nestlé baby formula due to the company's long history of ethically suspect infant formula marketing practices in the developing world. Nestlé's claim that it uses BPA-free packaging, if true, would be welcome news, because it suggests that other manufacturers could switch to safer packaging materials and reduce babies' BPA exposures. Powdered formula sold by Enfamil and Similac are reduced-risk choices, because only the metal tops and bottoms of their packages – not the cardboard sides – are metal and lined with BPA-based plastic. Earth's Best Organic and PBM (which make dozens of store brands) are more of a concern: they are sold in an entirely metal can, which means the formula has more contact with a BPA-coated surface.

If you must choose liquid formula, look for types sold in plastic containers or purchase concentrated – not ready-to-eat – types.

If you buy liquid formulas, look for those sold in plastic containers. If you must use liquid formula sold in metal cans, choose concentrated rather than ready-to-eat formula. Both FDA and EWG have tested samples of liquid formula sold in cans and found BPA in every company’s formula. Choosing a formula that requires dilution with water reduces the amount of BPA in your baby’s diet.

If you don’t know whether your brand is packaged with BPA, ask – and demand a straight answer.

During our initial calls to formula manufacturers, we asked company representatives if their packaging contains BPA, if they test for BPA levels in their products, and if they would disclose their test results to EWG. Many of the companies had a prepared response – “We comply with all FDA regulations regarding BPA and formula” – so it was clear that concerned parents are asking about BPA in formula. We later sent an email, without mentioning EWG, to see whether the information they gave to parents was consistent with what they told us. PBM, the manufacturer of store brands, told EWG researchers their containers have a BPA lining. However, PBM later sent an EWG staff member an email stating that their packaging contains no BPA. These conflicting claims raise serious doubts about the credibility of PBM’s consumer information on BPA. Nestlé tells parents on the phone and by email that their powdered formulas have no contact with BPA. They repeatedly told EWG researchers the same thing over the phone, but failed to put their claims in writing, making it difficult to determine if Nestlé is really a better option for babies. Ross-Abbot, the makers of Similac, is the only company that told us they tested for BPA in their products, and that they detected none. However, both EWG and the Food and Drug Administration have found BPA in Similac cans, raising questions about either Ross-Abbot’s candor or the sensitivity of their testing methods.