Doctors worry European baby formulas can be dangerous in US

Moms and dads are paying top dollar for brands like HiPP and Holle. But is it safe?

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/ Source: TODAY
By Rachel Paula Abrahamson

When I returned to work after a 12-week maternity leave, my breasts decided they were done making food. I’d sit in the pumping room watching videos of my daughter only to collect a few drops of milk. At that point, Nora was guzzling up 5 ounces up to 7 times a day.

“I think it’s time to switch over to formula,” I announced to a fellow mom friend. That’s when she let me in a little secret. Many parents are turning to Europeans brands such as HiPP and Holle. I had no idea.

“The milk comes from grass-fed cows!” she exclaimed. “It's so much better than what we have here."

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I went online and read rave reviews citing benefits such as the use of lactose — instead of corn syrup or glucose — as a sweetener. After a little bit of research, I ordered a box of the German brand HiPP from a third-party vendor. Sure, at $43 it was pricier than a $26 container of Similac Advance, but HiPP was far superior! It was non-GMO and packed with probiotics.

“What if it’s not safe? How do you know it’s not counterfeit?” my husband asked. “Shouldn’t we call Nora’s doctor?”

I told him not to worry. "It’s organically sourced and free of additives,” I said. “We’re actually giving Nora a gift.”

It turns out the FDA — and many others — agree with Dave. According to the New York Times, buying European formula from third-party sellers carries risks. In fact, Dr. Abeba Berhane, a pediatrician at DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, strongly advises parents against buying blends that have not been regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“The FDA has two main objectives when it comes to formula,” Dr. Berhane told TODAY Parents. “First, they want to make sure that the formula is made in a safe manner and that there are no infection risks. Second, they require that formula meets certain standards for nutrition.”

Dr. Berhane noted that third-party sellers — found on sites such as eBay — may not properly store the product, increasing the risk for contamination. Another issue: Since the FDA does not monitor products that have been recalled internationally, “there’s a chance you could be feeding your baby tainted formula and have no idea,” Dr. Berhane explained. “It’s not a chance you want to take.”

Felix Kurichithanam, a spokesman for Holle, told The New York Times the company hopes to register with the F.D.A. and enter the U.S. market in 2020. But for now, Holle's website includes a disclaimer that notes they do "not directly or indirectly sell and/or market" products in the United States and advises customers to direct inquiries at the retailer where they product was purchased. (TODAY Parents reached out to HiPP and Holle for comment but did not receive a response.)

Though Berhane understands the allure of European formula — it supposedly tastes like breast milk — she remains skeptical. “From a scientific point of view, I want evidence,” she told TODAY Parents. “I have not read any evidence that babies who consume formula from grass-fed cows have additional benefits."

As for me, while I had no reason to think it was contaminated or otherwise unhealthy, I ended up tossing my box of HiPP. I couldn’t understand the instructions and never figured out the correct ratio of powder to water. We switched to Costco’s brand and Nora is fine. Dr. Berhane thinks I made a smart choice.

“What you get here is not vastly different from what you can buy in Europe,” she said. “But when it’s regulated by the FDA, you can have peace of mind.”