Goat's milk to be allowed in baby formula
19th November 2013 – Mothers will be able to feed their babies formula based on goats’ milk for the first time.
The Department of Health is planning to follow advice from European food safety experts that goats’ milk protein is safe to use in infant formula.
Current rules say only cow's milk is suitable for use in formula feeds aimed at the youngest children. However, although in 2004 the European Food Safety Authority ruled there was insufficient evidence to say that goats’ milk was suitable for use in infant and follow-on formula, that opinion was reversed in an updated assessment published last March.
Parents with children who they believe are allergic to cow’s milk may welcome the change, but their hopes of a safe alternative are unfounded. The experts raised concerns that goats’ milk may indeed be seen by parents and carers as a suitable alternative for infants diagnosed as allergic to cow’s milk, but point out that there is no convincing evidence that the incidence of allergic reactions to goats’ milk protein is lower when compared to feeding cow’s milk-based formula. Also, because the proteins in cow and goat milk are similar, a baby allergic to one would almost certainly be intolerant to the other.
Manufacturers will, therefore, be prohibited from marketing goats’ milk-based formula as suitable for infants allergic to those containing cow's milk.
An EU directive was published earlier this year which requires member states to change the law by the end of February 2014.
The Department of Health is now consulting on new regulations that would allow manufacturers to sell formula containing goats’ milk in England. Separate, but parallel legislation will be implemented in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Allergy to cow's milk is "the most frequent allergy in the first years of life", according to the Department of Health. The government's advice will remain that goat's milk-based formula is not suitable for infants diagnosed as being allergic to cow’s milk.
The consultation will run until 6th December 2013.
Maureen Jenkins, director of clinical services at Allergy UK, says in an emailed comment: "Goats milk is not a safe alternative to cows' milk for children (and adults) with cows' milk protein allergy. Therefore, milk formulas containing goats' milk should not be used for such babies. These infants should continue to receive an extensively hydrolysed protein formula milk or even an amino acid formula milk, which are all prescribed by a GP or paediatrician.
"However, goats' milk is perfectly safe and nutritious for babies with no cows' milk protein allergy."
This article was updated after initial publication to incorporate comment from Allergy UK