Wellington, Dec 10 NZPA - Court proceedings to sort out whether a multinational manufacturer of infant formula, Nutricia, did enough to get regulatory approval for new additives may drag on through the next year.
The Dutch company initially defied requests from the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) for it to pull from shop shelves a range of infant formulas to which it had added a laxative-type ingredient not approved for New Zealand babies.
Eventually it withdrew the KariCare Gold Plus range containing soluble fibres known as fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS). In 2004, a European Food Safety Authority panel said the ingredient showed "variable effects" on consistency and frequency of stools from babies.
"There was an increased prevalence of adverse effects, including loose stools, in infants fed formula with added fructo-oligosaccharides," the EFSA panel said.
The New Zealand regulators have told their new Food Safety Minister, Kate Wilkinson, that though it started proceedings in October 2007 , the case has been set down for the High Court at Auckland in October 2009.
"The proceedings relate to whether or not an express permission was required for the inclusion of long chain FOS and GOS (fructo and galacto-oligosaccharides respectively) in the infant formula products produced by Nutricia in early 2007."
The company claimed at the time the substances would act as "prebiotics" to aid a baby's digestive and natural immune systems.
"NZFSA ... remains of the view that FOS (whether long chain or otherwise) and GOS were not lawful constituents in those products," the authority said.
A "nutritive substance" must not be added to infant formula and follow-on formula, unless there was a specific permission for the substance; or the substance was naturally present in an ingredient of the infant formula product.
Nutricia disagreed with NZFSA's interpretation of the food standards code.
The authority said a proposal relevant to the declaratory judgment proceedings was now before the trans-Tasman Food Standards Australia New Zealand agency and would eventually require a decision by that ministerial council, which includes Ms Wilkinson.
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