A senior paediatrician has described a social media campaign to have a baby formula pulled from shelves as unfounded and alarming, but the parents involved are refusing to back down.
Nestle carried out tests of Nestle NAN HA Gold baby formula after complaints that a change of recipe was to blame for a range of symptoms including body rashes, dehydration and irritability. It said tests had found the product safe, prompting further outcry from parents.
The Recall All Nestle NAN HA Gold Baby Formula Facebook page was created by Sarah Knispel, who says her daughter Cleo broke out in a rash on her face, started to vomit and became irritable after swapping from the Stage-2 900g formula to the newer 800g tin.
The Facebook page was created on August 9. Since then, almost 1700 parents have 'liked' it.
But John Sinn, a senior paediatrician, allergist and neonatologist at Royal North Shore Hospital, said the ongoing campaign was unfounded and risked worrying parents unnecessarily.
Our intention is certainly not to scare or worry parents, simply to ensure that they are aware of the formula changes
"We do use this formula [at the hospital] and I have not seen reactions in any of my patients," Associate Professor Sinn said.
"The use of mass media and Facebook by some groups these days really causes a lot of anxiety and grief, leading parents to associate the symptoms of their child with the formula."
He gave an example of a previous situation in which another brand of baby formula which changed its label, but not its recipe, which also caused parents to claim their babies were getting sick.
"It's a placebo effect and, while I don't deny their symptoms are there, it is no justification for claims this formula is unsafe," he said.
He said it was "perfectly normal" for babies to respond better to some formulas, adding that rashes were common in children, with allergies on the rise.
"There is no way we would wait for Nestle to pull a product off the shelf if we thought it was at all unsafe. We would just stop using it," he said.
The Chief Paediatrician for NSW Health, Les White, said there was no evidence the change of formulation was physically harmful to babies, and that parents should change formulas if concerned.
Sarah Knispel said Associate Professor Sinn's comments devalued the feedback from parents. When Essential Baby emailed Knispel for a statement, she said, "Whilst we appreciate the expertise of Professor Sinn, it is disappointing that he does not recognise the lifeline [the Facebook page] has provided to parents in recent weeks.
"The labelling of this product was not adequate in ensuring parents were aware that the composition of the formula had been changed. As such, when their babies started to show symptoms of an adverse reactions, their parents were unable to recognise that these were potentially related to the formula.
"Nestle, NSW Food Authority and NSW Health have all indicated in their respective statements that babies react differently to different types of formula. Our page has sought to ensure that as many parents as possible are aware of the changes and can recognise these when they appear in their babies. We have received many comments from parents across Australia, whose babies' symptoms resolved within 24-48 hours of changing brands of formula.
"Our intention is certainly not to scare or worry parents, simply to ensure that they are aware of the changes that have been made and can work with their treating health professionals to identify an alternative brand of formula.
"Unforunately to date, Nestle and the government authorities have failed to recognise the impact of the lack of adequate labelling on this product, an issue which needs to be addressed both now and for future changes to infant formula products."
A Nestle spokeswoman said the company was looking at more effective ways of communicating information to consumers.
This article was first published in the Sun Herald and on the Sydney Morning Herald website last week. Since then, Associate Professor Sinn has been the target of personal attacks. Read more at Daily Life.