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The New York Times this morning reports that questions are being raised about Similac Organic baby formula, which has generated more than $10 million in sales and captured more than one-third of the organic baby formula market in its first full year in existence.

The questions have to do with the organic cane sugar that is being used to sweeten the formula. While the sweetener does nothing to breach the "organic" designation, Similac Organic is said to be the only major brand of organic formula that uses cane sugar or sucrose, which is sweeter than ingredients used in other formulas. The Times writes that "other organic formulas, like Earth’s Best and Parent’s Choice, use organic lactose as the added sugar. Organic lactose must be extracted from organic milk, the global supplies of which have been severely stretched in the last three years, driving up the price of the lactose."

According to the Times, "No health problems in babies have been associated with Similac Organic. But to pediatricians, there are risks in giving babies cane sugar: Sucrose can harm tooth enamel faster than other sugars; once babies get used to its sweeter taste, they might resist less sweet formulas or solid foods; and some studies suggest that they might overeat, leading to rapid weight gain in the first year, which is often a statistical predictor of childhood."

Abbott Laboratories, which makes Similac, has responded to the controversy by saying that its formulation has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is considered "safe and well-established."

However, what is good for the FDA apparently is not acceptable to the 27 nations that make up European Union (EU), which has decided to ban sucrose-sweetened formulas by the end of next year, except in cases where doctors prescribe such products because of allergies.

KC's View:
Abbott Labs can defend this all it wants, but the ending of this story already has been written. The simple fact is that it is going to have to find an alternative sweetener, because right now parents who use Similac Organic feel betrayed. This isn’t just about ingredients. It is about people's infant children, it is about significant lifestyle choices, and it is about trust.

The longer Abbott Labs tries to make its argument in this case, the worse it is going to look.