Public Eye report uncovers bitter truth about added sugar in Nestlé’s infant meals for low-income countries

Nestle, the world’s largest food and beverage company, has been discovered to add sugar to infant food in poorer countries intentionally. According to a Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) report, the conglomerate adds 6 grams of sugar per serving in its Cerelac and Nido infant meals, sold in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. However, this differs from the meals sold in European countries like Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

According to the report, this initiative by the global food company goes against international guidelines for preventing obesity and chronic diseases. Because of Nestle’s lack of transparency on the exact amount of sugar in their products, Public Eye, along with the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), decided to embark on a research journey to discover if truly Nestle’s infant cereals and baby food offers “the best nutrition” as it claims.

Despite encountering hurdles while trying to find a specialised laboratory in Switzerland to conduct the product testing first, Public Eye found a laboratory in Belgium that accepted the task. This testing indicated that 94% of Cerelac products in Asia, Africa, and Latin America contained added sugar despite the sugar content not being shown on the packaging.

Image Credit: Public Eye Report

However, Nestle’s European markets, including France, Germany, Switzerland, and the UK, had no added sugar in the same products intended for babies aged six months to 2 years.

What does this mean?

A World Health Organisation (WHO) scientist, Nigel Rollins, described the finding as a “double standard that cannot be justified.” He also said this action by Nestle is very “problematic from both public health and ethical perspective.” Because of the addictive nature of sugar, Nestle might be trying to get children accustomed to products with high sugar content at an early age so that when they grow up, they would prefer products with high sugar content.

The direct implication of addiction to sugar is the growing case of obesity in low-income countries. Obesity in these low-income countries is leading to an aggressive increase in con communicable diseases like cardiovascular issues, cancer, and diabetes. In the last decade, even infant diabetes has increased tenfold, according to WHO. In 2022, an estimated number of 39 million children under the age of 5 were diabetic, and his number is growing every day due to issues like added sugar in infant food.

What does this mean for African mothers?

The recent findings from Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) shed light on unsettling practices by Nestlé, a brand deeply entrenched in African societies and households. With a wide range of products like Cerelac, Milo, Nido, and others that are staples in the diets of infants and young children, these revelations call into question the trustworthiness of Nestlé’s claims of offering “the best nutrition.” The report highlights a significant and concerning discrepancy: products sold in Africa contain added sugars unlike their European counterparts, potentially predisposing African children to higher risks of obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes.

This issue underscores not only a double standard in the nutritional content of products sold in different markets but also illuminates the broader ethical implications of such practices. African mothers, who often rely on the reputation of global brands to provide quality nutrition for their children, face a dilemma. The trust placed in a globally recognized brand is now at odds with the need to protect their children’s health. To safeguard the wellbeing of their young ones, mothers in Africa and other low-income regions globally must now seek out alternatives that guarantee transparency and genuine nutritional value.

Given this context, the call for regulatory reforms becomes even more urgent. There is a pressing need for enhanced consumer education and stronger regulatory oversight to ensure that all food products—regardless of the geographical market—adhere to the highest standards of health and safety. Empowering mothers with accurate, accessible information about the nutritional content of infant foods will enable them to make informed choices, advocating for the health of their children and prompting a shift towards more equitable food policies worldwide.

What do the people have to say?

Due to the topic’s sensitivity, people are stating their opinions on what this new report indicates for African societies. While some believe that regulatory bodies are at fault for this health negligence, others are outrightly blaming racism and discrimination against people of colour.

This report shows Nestle’s blatant disregard for African and BIPOC communities. The double standard reveals the organisation’s ideologies and motives towards low-income communities. Despite monopolising the food and beverage industry, Nestle is slowly losing the trust of its largest consumers. Currently, boycotts continue to fly among people who are appalled by Nestle’s discriminatory act.

With all that the Public Eye report has revealed, how do you feel about intentionally adding sugar to infant meals in low- and middle-income countries? Let us know in the comments!


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