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Nestle adds sugar in Cerelac in India but not in Europe, claims report

A recent report by Public Eye, a Swiss watchdog group, has sparked controversy over Nestle's practices in infant food. The report alleges that Nestle adds sugar to its Cerelac baby cereal sold in India and other low-income countries, while the same product is sugar-free in Europe.

Rahul Pratyush Written By: Rahul Pratyush New Delhi Published on: April 18, 2024 10:34 IST
Nestle cerelac
Image Source : FILE IMAGE Nestle adds sugar in Cerelac in India but not in Europe

Nestle, a giant in the global food industry, is facing accusations of "double standards" regarding the sugar content of their baby food products. A report by Public Eye, a Swiss non-governmental organisation (NGO), alleges that Nestlé adds sugar and honey to certain infant formula and cereal products sold in low-income countries, while such practices are absent in their offerings in Europe.

The report, based on an analysis of 150 Nestle products in ‘lower-income countries,’ including India, raises concerns about the potential health implications for babies consuming these sugar-added foods. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends against added sugar in baby foods due to its link to childhood obesity and other health problems.

The investigation found that all Cerelac variants in India contain added sugar, averaging nearly 3 grams per serving. This is concerning as health guidelines recommend minimal to no added sugar for young children. The report highlights that Nestle's lucrative Indian market, exceeding $250 million in sales in 2022, seems to be a target for these sugared products.

Unequal practices:

Public Eye, along with the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), conducted tests on these products and found that many contained added sugar in the form of sucrose or honey. This includes popular brands like Nido, a follow-on milk formula for toddlers, and Cerelac, a cereal for babies six months and older.

Significantly, the report highlights that these sugary versions are not found in Nestle's product lines sold in wealthier nations. Products like Cerelac in Europe are explicitly labeled ‘no added sugar,’ while their counterparts in low-income regions contain added sugars.

The report highlights specific examples, Cerelac baby cereal in South Africa contains the equivalent of one and a half sugar cubes per serving, while an equivalent product in Switzerland explicitly states no added sugar. The average sugar content across 78 Cerelac samples from Africa, Latin America, and Asia was approximately one sugar cube per serving.

Potential health risks:

The report's findings raise concerns about the potential health consequences for babies consuming these sugar-laden products. Excessive sugar intake in early childhood can contribute to obesity, tooth decay, and other health problems later in life.  Public Eye argues that Nestle is putting the health of vulnerable populations at risk for the sake of short-term gains.

Laurent Gabrell, co-author of the Public Eye investigation, stated, "By adding sugar to these products, Nestle's sole aim – and that of other manufacturers too – is to create an addiction or dependency in children because they like the taste of sugar. And so, if the products are very sweet, they'll be asking for more in the future." 

Nestle’s response:

Nestle has claimed to have decreased the quantity of sugar incorporated into its global range of infant cereals by 11% within the past decade. A company spokesperson emphasised that Nestle products clearly declare total sugar content, noting that ‘slight variations in recipes’ for Nido and Cerelac products occur due to regulatory requirements and the accessibility of local ingredients.

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