Report reveals that Nestlé adds sugar to baby formula in Latin America, Africa and Asia, but not in Europe


In Switzerland, the label on Nestlé's Cerelac infant cereals says they contain “no added sugar.” But in Senegal and South Africa, the same product contains 6 grams of added sugar per serving, according to recent Public Eye research. And in the Philippines, one serving of a version of Cerelac cereal for babies ages 1 to 6 months contains 7.3 grams of added sugar, the equivalent of almost two teaspoons.

This “double standard” in the way Nestlé creates and markets its popular baby food brands around the world was exposed in an investigation by Public Eye, an independent, non-partisan research organization based in Switzerland, and International Baby. Food Action Network.

The groups allege that Nestlé adds sugars and honey to some of its cereals and baby formulas in low-income countries, while products sold in Europe and other countries are advertised as having “no added sugar.” The disparities uncovered in the report, published in April in the BMJ, have raised alarm bells among global health experts.

Nestlé stated on its website: “We have reduced sugar in many of our infant cereals. Although there are added sugars in some. “We are moving to reduce them even further, as well as offer more options without added sugar.”

Public Eye sent 115 baby food products from the Cerelac and Nido brands marketed by the food giant in Africa, Asia and Latin America to undergo laboratory testing. The research found that 94% of them had added sugar.

“In 67 of these products we were able to determine the amount of added sugar. On average, there were almost 4 grams per serving, or about one (cube) of sugar,” according to the report.

According to Public Eye researcher Laurent Gaberell, it was difficult to find a laboratory that analyzed food samples from around the world.

“All the laboratories we approached in Switzerland refused to work with us on the project because they feared that the research could have a negative impact on your customers”Gaberell said. “So we had to do the work with a laboratory that is based in Belgium.”

Nestlé is the parent company of popular baby food brands such as Cerelac and Nido. The company has reported that its infant nutrition products were the “largest contributor to growth” of its net earnings of $11.2 billion in 2023.

Gaberell said the added sugar levels ignore international guidance on nutrition for children and babies.

“There really is a consensus that there is absolutely no place for sugar in baby foods,” he said.

In the European region, World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines state that sugar should not be added to foods for infants under 3 years of age.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has launched an independent investigation into Nestlé following the publication of the report, the Reuters agency reported.

According to the FSSAI website, “sucrose and/or fructose will not be added, unless necessary as a source of carbohydrates, and provided that the sum of both does not exceed 20% of the total carbohydrates.”

For its part, Nigeria's National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control issued a statement in response to the report stating that Nestlé products in the country do meet its standards.

“All of our infant formula products for babies under 12 months contain no added sugars,” Nestlé stated on its website. “As for the so-called growth milks (GUM), for children between 1 and 3 years old, we began to progressively eliminate added sugars some time ago and the vast majority of these products do not contain refined sugar. Our goal is to reach 100% by the end of 2024.”

WHO scientist Nigel Rollins told Public Eye researchers: “Such double standards are unjustifiable”.

A Nestlé spokesperson told NBC News that the company is working to reduce added sugars around the world and offers sugar-free products in several countries.

On its website Nestlé indicates: “Our products comply with all applicable local and/or international regulations.”

The company also responded with a statement saying that “supporting the right nutritional start in life is fundamental to who we are and how we operate. “All of our early childhood foods and milks are nutritionally balanced, as defined by commonly accepted scientific guidelines and dietary recommendations, including CODEX.”

The Codex Alimentarius is a set of international food standards and guidelines developed in collaboration with the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Experts say there may be long-term health consequences for babies and toddlers who consume too much sugar at a young age.

“We have reduced the recommended amount of sugar, especially in young children, because we know that we are in an obesity crisis, not only in this country but throughout the world. We discovered that the increase in sugar in our liquid products is actually contributing to the problems of the obesity crisis” said Dr. Sara Siddiqui, a pediatrician at NYU Langone Health.

It is essential to create healthy eating habits from an early age.

“It is very important to start from a young age and try to reduce our relationship with sugar, because it has addictive qualities and can change the brain,” said Siddiqui.

He added that economic stress can also influence parents to continue buying formulas with added sugar and infant cereals that their children seem to like.

“In some developing countries, and even here in the United States, where there are people who are not doing well economically, (those people) do not want to waste the product once they buy it,” Siddiqui explained. “So if your child is going to drink the drink that is sweetest to him, he will consume all of it and you won't feel like you're wasting your funds or your resources.”

Siddiqui encouraged parents to be kind to themselves.

“My advice is to always give yourself a little recognition. They are parents and that is hard,” Siddiqui said. “It is always better to read the ingredients (…) and make sure that he is trying to model the behavior that he would like to see in his children.”

Gaberell's solutions include educating local communities about their traditional infant feeding methods, and demanding that Nestlé stop manufacturing all infant products with added sugar.

“It was made in Switzerland, therefore can be obtained all over the world“, he claimed.