Potentially dangerous 'needle-like' nanoparticles found in Australian baby formula

Published: 02 July 2017


A study has found ‘potentially toxic’ nanoparticles in popular Australian baby formulas, sparking calls for an urgent recall of products.

Independent researchers commissioned by environmental group Friends of the Earth found three of seven samples of baby formula off shelves contained microscopic ‘nano-hydroxyapatite’ particles.

The study says the nanoparticles have been found to damage the liver and kidneys of rats and is prohibited for use in formula in Australia.

Two of the samples – Nestle NAN H.A. Gold 1 and Nature’s Way Kids Smart 1 – contained ‘needle-like’ forms of the nanoparticles.

While hydroxyapatite is a naturally occurring mineral present in bones, the study claims the shape, microscopic size and artificial nature of the ‘needle-like’ nanoparticles may present a health hazard.

Friends of the Earth spokesman Jeremy Tager said this form of hydroxyapatite had been banned from use in toothpaste and mouthwash by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety.

“If it’s dangerous in toothpaste, it should certainly not be in infant formula,” he said.

“Babies are particularly vulnerable to food safety risks since their immune systems are still developing. Often infant formula is the only food an infant receives… [authorities need] to immediately recall these products.”

However, the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) said the study didn’t provide any new evidence to prove these products could harm infant health and safety.

The FSANZ relied on information from experts from the Scientific Nanotechnology Advisory Group.

“Nanoscale materials are not new… humans, including infants, have consumed these particles in foods throughout evolution without evidence of adverse health effects related to the materials’ nanoscale size,” a FSANZ statement said.

“The presence of something, whether on the nanoscale or not, in a food that does not have a permission in the [Food Standards] Code does not mean a food is unsafe.”

“Nano-sized particles may not be the result of intentional addition (eg. As an additive), some are naturally occurring and others may be produced during processing.”

The FSANZ also said the hydroxyapatite material was unlikely to be dangerous when ingested.

“Hydroxyapatite is soluble in acidic environments such as the stomach, so small amounts in food are likely to dissolve to release calcium and phosphate. These are essential minerals that are required to be in infant formula products,” a statement read.