Date Published: 27 March 2014

UK FSA warns goats' milk formula not the answer for infants allergic to cows' milk

Goats' milk infant and follow-on formula is permitted for sale in the UK after regulations changed in Feb 2014. Although that might appear to be good news for parents of infants who have an allergy to cows' milk, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued a warning that it considers goats milk infant and follow-on formula "unlikely" to be suitable for infants with a cows' milk protein allergy. Perhaps, not such good news afterall, then.

Why did the UK regulations re. goats' milk infant and follow-on formula change ?
According to the FSA, this was the result of an opinion published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). It considers protein from goats' milk can be suitable as a protein source for infant and follow-on formula provided that the final product complies with the relevant criteria on the composition, labelling and advertising of such products (EU Directive 2006/141/EC).

What are the warnings ?
People caring for infants and young children who consume infant or follow-on formula products have been advised to "proceed with caution". The main reason for the caution appears to be that the European Food Safety Agency has expressed concern that goats' milk formula may not be suitable for infants who have an allergy to cow' milk proteins. This is because the proteins in cows' and goats' milk are so similar that a baby allergic to one is considered likely to be allergic to the other as well.

" Many parents may be keen to feed their babies formula based on goats' milk as an alternative if their child is allergic to cow's milk. However, there is a high risk of cross reactivity between cows' and goats' milk proteins," explained Sue Hattersley, head of food allergy at the FSA.
" As a result, it's important that parents understand that goats' milk formula is not suitable for infants with a cows' milk protein allergy, unless directed by a healthcare professional," she added.

As a result of this concern, manufacturers of infant and follow-on formula products will not be permitted to market goats' milk-based formula milks as suitable for children with cows' milk allergies.

Further explanation about milk protein allergies
It has been reported that cows' milk protein allergy is the most common food allergy in the first years of life. The World Allergy Organization estimates that 1.9% to 4.9% of children suffer from a cows' milk protein allergy.
Milk from other mammalian species has been suggested as a possible nutritional alternative to cows' milk for these infants. However, clinical studies have shown a high risk of cross-reactivity between the proteins in cows' milk and in other mammalian milk, including goats' milk. There have also been cases in which infants with a cows' milk allergy have developed anaphylaxis after the ingestion of goat's milk. Severe anaphylaxis episodes can be fatal.

Due to the high risk of cross reactivity between cows' and goats' milk proteins, the UK Government has advised that goats' milk infant and follow-on formula are not suitable for infants with a cows' milk protein allergy, unless directed by a healthcare professional. Surprisingly, the statement issued by the FSA does not include any comment about human milk for human babies. If there were any policy of encouraging breast-feeding, or at least highlighing its benefits where appropriate, this seems like a missed opportunity.

Source: Food Standards Agency (FSA), UK

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