Natural Foods Merchandiser

Rocket fuel in formula ignites concern

Perchlorate, a chemical component of rocket fuel, was found in 15 brands of powdered baby formula tested by government scientists, according to a report released last week.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not identify the formula brands they tested but did report the two most contaminated brands, made from cow's milk, accounted for 87 percent of the U.S. powdered formula market in 2000. The findings were published in the March edition of the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.

A potent thyroid toxin that may interfere with fetal and infant brain development, perchlorate has been detected in drinking water in 28 states. The chemical is a remnant of Cold War rocket and missile testing.

"Perchlorate contamination of drinking water is a very serious concern, particularly for infants," said Anila Jacob, M.D., a senior scientist with Environmental Working Group. "As this unprecedented study demonstrates, infants fed cow's milk-based powdered formula could be exposed to perchlorate from two sources—tap water and formula. That suggests that millions of American babies are potentially at risk."

Last fall, Environmental Protection Agency officials announced that perchlorate in drinking water posed no threat to most Americans and that it did not need to be regulated as a water pollutant. (See our story: Perchlorate fuels concerns over drinking water). In response to widespread public criticism of this action, the agency issued a non-binding "health advisory" on perchlorate and asked the National Academy of Sciences to review the issue. EWG dismissed the EPA action as "nothing more than an effort to dodge the issue and buy time for the defense, aerospace and chemical industries." In a release, the group urged the EPA to "scrap Bush era perchlorate policies that shielded defense contractors and other big polluters for the costs of cleaning up perchloate-contaminated water by setting a legally enforceable safe drinking water level that protects pregnant women, infants and others who are most vulnerable to the effects of this harmful chemical."

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson pledged that she would act immediately to reduce perchlorate contamination in drinking water at her confirmation hearing. No plan of action has been made public.

Baby food experienced the largest sales growth in the specialty food market between 2006 and 2008 according to the annual State of the Specialty Food Industry, compiled by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, Mintel International and SPINS. Specialty baby food generated $58 million in sales at retail (excluding Walmart and Trader Joe's), a 69 percent increase from 2006.

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