Nestle Nigeria ignores global standard, adds more sugar to infant products

Nestlé adds more sugar to baby food sold in lower- and middle-income countries, while more affluent markets get healthier versions, according to a recent report released by a nonprofit group.

 

A recent report has revealed that Nestle, a multinational food and beverage company, has been sending sub-standard infant food products to Nigeria and other low- and middle-income countries.

This investigation was carried out by the Public Eye, a Swiss investigative organisation, in collaboration with the International Baby Food Action Network, a coalition focused on improving maternal and infant health.

The findings, published Wednesday, show that the global food company based in Switzerland adds sugar and honey to infant milk and cereal products sold to Nigeria and other countries such as India, Brazil, and the Philippines, contrary to international guidelines.

Samples of Nestle’s baby food products sold in Asia, Africa, and Latin America were sent to Belgium for laboratory testing.

The laboratory tests revealed added sugar, such as sucrose or honey, in samples of Cerelac, a cereal for children between six months and two years old, and Nido, a follow-up milk formula brand intended for infants of at least one-year-old.

According to the report, while baby formulas sold in Europe for children 12 – 36 months contained no sugar, formulas sold to lower-income countries contained a significant amount.

But efforts to get the reactions of both Nestle in Nigeria and the country’s food regulator- National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), were unsuccessful.

While regular calls made to the company’s Head of Corporate Affairs, Victoria Uwadoka, did not connect, those made via WhatsApp rang out as she did not pick.

She, however, later replied to a message sent to her WhatsApp line, requesting that an email should be sent to an address she provided. But an automatic reply to the mail sent by our reporter indicated that her response may be delayed.

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“Thank you for your email. I am out of office with very limited access to email. Please expect a delayed response,” the message reads.

Meanwhile, the phone number of the Director General of NAFDAC, Mojosola Adeyeye, a professor, was also not available.

Guidelines on infant food

WHO has consistently warned that baby foods with high levels of sugar are not suitable for infants under the age of six months to prevent obesity, chronic diseases and an addiction to sweeteners.

“The first two years of a child’s life are particularly important, as optimal nutrition during this period lowers morbidity and mortality, reduces the risk of chronic disease, and fosters better development overall,” it said.

The organisation’s European region guidelines prohibit adding sugars or sweetening agents to food for children under three. Although there are no specific guidelines for other regions, the guide for EU regions is believed to apply to countries worldwide.

Nestle, however, has been violating these recommendations by adding a significant quantity of sugar into its products available in Nigeria and other low-income countries.

Sugar content high in Nigeria Cerelac

According to the report, Cerelac from Nigeria had the second-highest sugar content, with 6.8g per serving. The country closely follows the Philippines, which has 7.3g.

The report said, “On average, our analysis found almost 4 grams per serving or about one sugar cube.”

Other countries on the list are Senegal, with 5.9g; Vietnam, 5.49g; Ethiopia, 5.2g; and South Africa, 4.2g.

For Nido, Nigeria was ranked 7th out of 10 countries with high sugar content. According to the report, samples from Nigeria and Senegal, ranked 8th, had 0.6g.

The highest sugar content was found in Panama samples, at 5.3g per serving. Then came Nicaragua 4.7g; Mexico 1.8g; Costa Rica 1.6g; South Africa 0.9g; and Indonesia 0.7g.

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“For Nestlé, not all babies are equal when it comes to added sugar. While in Switzerland, where the company is headquartered, the main infant cereals and formula brands sold by the multinational come without added sugar, most Cerelac and Nido products marketed in lower-income countries do contain added sugar, often at high levels,” the report said.

Often, the report noted, the amount of added sugar is not even disclosed in the nutritional information available on the packaging of these kinds of products.

Sugar-induced diseases in low-income countries

In 2019, WHO raised the alarm on the rise of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes in low and middle-income countries.

The increased consumption of ultra-processed foods, often high in sugar, was singled out as one of the leading causes of this epidemic.

Also, in Africa, the number of overweight children under five has risen by nearly 23% since 2000, and obesity remains a growing problem.

Public Eye states, “Nestlé must put an to end these dangerous double standards and stop adding sugar in all products for children under three years old, in every part of the world.”

Further findings

The investigation also uncovered Nestle’s use of medical professionals and health experts to promote its products despite failing to meet the standard guidelines.

It said using professionals in white coats leads parents to believe eminent scientific authorities endorse these products.

Nothing can justify the double standards highlighted by the Public Eye and IBFAN investigation.

“If Nestlé truly intends to act responsibly, it must follow the recommendations and guidelines of the WHO and stop getting babies and young children hooked on sugar, regardless of the country in which they were born,” the report read.

The Swiss multinational baby food company has operated in Nigeria for decades and established a strong market presence.

In 2022, the Chief Executive Officer of Nestle Nigeria Plc, Wassim El-Husseini, said that the country consumes 25 per cent of its global fortified food and beverages, estimated at $16. 2 billion.

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According to Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) a non- governmental organization which has been at the forefront of of fighting against Sugar-Sweetened Beverage (SSB) , products filled with SSBs either , dairy products among others are associated with the heightened risk of obesity-related cancers.

 

CAPPA’s Executive Director Akinbode Oluwafemi in one of their workshops had urged advised the government to tackle the problem from its roots, adding that better monitoring and regulation of SSBs among other measures, will be a great place to start.

“The government cannot tackle the rising cases of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) without addressing the risk factors holistically. These include taking concrete actions against sugar-sweetened beverages, and other unhealthy dietary trends.

 

The group also called for policies that will take promote healthy living among the citizens.

“In a country with more than 80% paying out-of-pocket for health expenditure, the government must prioritise legislations that shrink unhealthy food environments and promote a healthy consumption culture in society.”

 

However while responding to an enquiry on the development by an online news platform in Nigeria, Nestle Nigeria’s Head of Corporate Communications, Victoria Uwadoka, stated that the company maintains consistent nutrition, health, and wellness principles globally.

 

She clarified that Nestle does not add sugars to infant formula for children aged 0-12 months, including in Nigeria. She emphasized adherence to international and local guidelines, stating that Nestle’s Growing Up Milk in Nigeria contains no added sugars.

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