All 15 Cerelac baby cereal products sold by Swiss food-processing conglomerate Nestlé in India contain on average nearly three grams of added sugar per serving, an investigation by Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network has found.

Public Eye is a Swiss non-governmental organisation campaigning for fair globalisation and the International Baby Food Action Network is a network of public interest groups working to reduce morbidity and mortality among infants and young children globally.

In South Africa too, all Cerelac baby cereals contain four grams or more of added sugar per serving and in Brazil, six out of eight such products sold by Nestlé contain an average of three grams of sugar per serving, they found.

However, the investigation also found that all infant cereals and formulas sold in the European market, including Switzerland, Germany, France and the United Kingdom, did not have any added sugar.

In a statement shared with Scroll, a Nestlé India spokesperson said that the company’s “products manufactured in India are in full and strict compliance with CODEX standards [a commission established by the World Heath Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization] and local specifications (as required) pertaining to the requirements all nutrients including added sugars”.

“Over the past 5 years, we have already reduced added sugars by up to 30%, depending on the variant,” the statement read. “We regularly review our portfolio and continue to innovate and reformulate our products to further reduce the level of added sugars, without compromising on nutrition, quality, safety, and taste.”

The report by the two organisations also showed that Cerelac wheat-based cereals, meant for consumption by six-month-old babies, contained over two grams of added sugar per serving in India, six grams in Brazil and over five grams in Ethiopia. The same product being sold in Germany and the United Kingdom did not contain any added sugar.

The sales of Cerelac baby cereals in India surpassed over Rs 20,000 crore in 2022. In Brazil, Nestlé sold baby cereal worth over Rs 12,500 crore in the same year.

According to Rodrigo Vianna, epidemiologist and professor at the Department of Nutrition of the Federal University of Paraíba in Brazil, the company adding sugar to baby food is “a big concern”.

“Sugar should not be added to foods offered to babies and young children because it is unnecessary and highly addictive,” Vianna told Public Eye. “Children get used to the sweet taste and start looking for more sugary foods, starting a negative cycle that increases the risk of nutrition-based disorders in adult life.” These include obesity and other chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Nigel Rollins, a scientist at the World Health Organization, said that Nestlé was showing a “double standard that cannot be justified” by adding high quantities of sugar to products sold in low-income countries, an act he described as “problematic both from a public health and ethical perspective”. Rollins said this could be a way “to get children accustomed to a certain level of sugar at a very early age so that they prefer products high in sugar”.

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