The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has warned about the illegal sale online of rice-based infant and follow-on formula.

Such formulas are not permitted to be sold in Europe, as they do not meet nutritional requirements for infants. They may be allowed if classed as foods for special medical purposes for those with a lactose intolerance or cow’s milk allergy.

The agency’s advice is that infants and young children up to 4 and a half years old should not consume rice milk as a substitute for cows’ milk, breast milk or other kinds of infant formulas because of a risk of inorganic arsenic exposure.

EU regulation on infant formula and follow-on formula manufactured from protein hydrolysates was updated in 2021. Protein from cow’s milk and goat’s milk or proteins isolated from soya or protein hydrolysates made from demineralized whey protein from cow’s milk are allowed but use of protein hydrolysates derived from rice is not permitted.

Arsenic exposure concerns
Previous research in 2009 detected low levels of inorganic arsenic in rice milk.

A rice-based infant and follow-on formula, Prémibio Prémiriz from France, is available to buy online via the website.

The warning about the unauthorized sale of organic hydrolyzed rice protein infant formula also includes insufficient labelling and comes after a consumer complaint.

The FSAI said it has contacted authorities in the UK and other EU countries to discontinue the sale of the product in Europe from the website. The agency is also reaching out to hospitals and public health professionals to inform them of the online sales.

Pamela Byrne, chief executive at the FSAI, said arsenic is found in the environment and can be present in a range of foods, including rice, at low levels.

“The toxicity of arsenic depends on the form in which it is present, this being either organic or inorganic. The inorganic form is the more toxic form and the FSAI states that exposure to this should be kept as low as reasonably practicable. As a precaution, to reduce exposure to inorganic arsenic, parents and guardians should not give these foods to infants and young children up to 4.5 years,” she said.

Research needs
The FSAI has also published its 2022 research needs report which contains priority areas that would help the risk assessment and risk management work of the agency and support the protection of public health.

Food safety research is important to highlight risk and find potential control measures, address gaps in knowledge to support regulation and identify emerging issues and threats to the food system.

The FSAI is not a research funding body, so to raise awareness of needs, it lists areas to help agencies that fund such projects and scientists in research institutes.

Examples are vulnerability assessments on the beef, pork, poultry, and white fish product supply chains; trends and food safety risks of synthetic biology; the chemical and microbiological safety of plant-based meat alternatives; impact of the circular economy on food safety; and effects that proposed reductions in the maximum levels of nitrates and nitrites may have on meat products.

Funded projects include one on the increasing risk of paralytic shellfish poisoning in Ireland headed up by the Marine Institute, another on mycotoxin exposure risk led by University College Dublin and one dealing with detection of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) in water.

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