From time to time, formula manufacturers want to add new ingredients to their products.
To do so, they must make a submission to the Food Standards of Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) and request approval for new ingredients to be added to infant formula.
FSANZ is mostly interested in food safety, rather than how well the ingredients work.
Recently, FSANZ has approved the use of a genetically modified ingredient (GMO) in infant formula.
What is the GMO ingredient being added?
The GMO ingredient approved for use in infant formula is 2’-O-fucosyllactose (2’-FL), alone or in combination with Lacto-N-neotetraose (LNnT).
Both 2’-FL and LNnT are oligosaccharides found in human milk. Oligosaccharides are a type of carbohydrate that act as food for good bacteria in our gut.
To be added to formula, however, they are formed by using a fermentation process from GM strains of the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli).
Here are 5 questions about these GMO ingredients used in infant formula.
#1: What is genetically modified E. coli?
E. coli is a bacterium that lives in our intestines. Most types of E. coli are harmless, but some strains can make you quite sick, and cause severe stomach cramps, vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Usually these bacteria enter the body from contaminated water or food.
When an organism has been genetically modified, it means its DNA has been changed in a laboratory. Due to their simple genetics, bacteria were amongst the first organisms to be genetically modified.
E. coli is a preferred type of bacteria for scientists to use for genetic modification, as DNA can be introduced into it easily, and it can produce large amounts of the desired ingredients.
#2: Why add 2’-FL and LNnT to formula?
As mentioned above, 2’-FL and LNnT are oligosaccharides found in human milk.
Oligosaccharides are prebiotics – they act as food for good bacteria in the gut.
They also have anti-microbial factors and enhance the maturation of a baby’s gut.
Human milk contains more than 200 types of oligosaccharides, making them human milk’s third most abundant component.
Find out more about the amazing properties of human milk here in Breastfeeding And Immunity – 6 Important Facts.
It was hoped that by adding these ingredients to infant formula they might have the same effect on formula-fed infants.
Read on to find out whether there’s evidence to support this.
#3: What are the benefits of adding GMOs to formula?
It’s important to understand human milk is a complex fluid.
The makeup and effect of human milk varies between mothers and over time. It’s truly remarkable how human milk responds to the changing needs of babies.
Also, many components of human milk act together to produce the desired effect.
For example, two proteins of human milk, lysozyme and lactoferrin, work together in their antibacterial action.
Adding ingredients to formula, however, doesn’t necessarily have the same impact as when they are present in human milk.
#4: What does the research say?
So, what does the research tell us about GMO ingredients used in infant formula? Are there any potential benefits in adding 2’-FL?
Although 2’-FL is considered safe, research into the benefits of adding it to infant formula are still inconclusive.
Research is currently limited, and has mostly involved animal studies.
#5: Should I buy formula with GM 2’-FL and LNnT?
This leaves the question of whether you should bother buying formula with added GM 2’-FL and LNnT?
Although they are deemed safe, it is not yet known whether or not there is any benefit in buying formula with these ingredients added.
If manufacturers increase overall product costs as a result of GMO ingredients used in infant formula, then you should probably consider saving your money.
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