Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Lifting the Lid on baby foods

Last Thursday, I was invited to That London to the launch of Fiona Wilcock's report into the nutritional content of Cow & Gate baby foods "Lifting The Lid".  Despite the best efforts of the Circle Line and an annoying man on the train from Cardiff, I made it to The Folly in time to meet Fiona, as well as Dr Pavel Hejzlar, one of Cow & Gate's quality experts, responsible for ensuring the quality standards of the apples that go into their jars, and one of the extended Cow & Gate family that Fiona spoke to in compiling her report.

Still a favourite!
There was plenty in the report that surprised me, for all sorts of reasons.  Apparently, more than two-thirds of mums (68%) feed their children manufactured baby foods, but less than one in ten (7%) feel confident that the food is good quality!  How strange! The smallest, most important little person in your life, you're feeding them something that you're not sure whether it's any good? Wow!  That honestly shocked me.  Squeaky's eaten a mixture of home made & manufactured baby foods from the time we first started weaning, at least in part because I'm not all that confident in my own cooking skills, but I chose products that I was confident I could trust, and that looked & sounded appealing to me as an adult.

And seemingly, we don't give ourselves enough credit.  Almost 4 in ten (39%) feel that we're being judged by other mums for not making their baby food from scratch, and 21% say it makes them feel like a bad mum.  Mums, please, you're brilliant, don't beat yourselves up!  I know where they're coming from, it's completely natural to compare yourself against others, and often against those who we aspire to be like, and we'll never come out favourably when we're looking at the people we want to be, it's a mountain to climb.

Some of the findings in the report were amazing.  Did you know that the quality controls for baby grade ingredients are actually more stringent than those for organic ingredients in the supermarket, for things such as nitrates & heavy metals.  You couldn't buy baby grade ingredients in the supermarket, they're the bananas that may be too bendy to meet EU regulations, or the apples that have skin marks where they've rested against the branches.  But they're grown far from main roads & heavy industry to keep them free from pollutants, in places where they grow best, to minimise the need for chemical treatments, and grown by farmers who have a long term relationship with Cow & Gate, ensuring Cow & Gate get the quality ingredients they need, and the farmers get a guaranteed sale for their crops as long as they maintain the standards asked of them.  Dr Pavel, and his counterparts, are there to support the farmers, to help make sure they meet these standards, and answer any problems they may have - any time!  I couldn't answer questions about apples at 6 in the morning, but I'm glad he can, because it means Squeaky can have apple puree in her porridge at 7!

Fiona also spoke to beef farmers, banana farmers, animal welfare experts and recipe developers in compiling her report, and here's a few of her other findings:

  • You can't control what a free range chicken eats, so it's not necessarily the best for baby food. A welfare-assured, but controlled environment, means that the meat is going to be safe for baby's needs.
  • The banana skins left over after bananas are peeled for Cow & Gate are taken back to the farms, where they are composted & used as fertiliser on the banana plantation. Recycling at its best.
  • Even if you grew the veg yourself, at home, organically, you couldn't guarantee the same standards, as contaminants can stay in the soil for 20+years.
  • No salt is added to any of Cow & Gate's baby foods, and the testers even find their own taste preferences change as a result of educating their palate to the additive free tastes of baby foods.
For me, I was interested in the international aspect of the foods.  Cow & Gate are a world-wide brand, and it was reassuring to find I could get foods I (and Squeaky) recognised on holiday last year.  But I wondered if they really were the same.  We've all encountered the "it doesn't taste the same as at home" argument, and I know that different countries have different regulations for food, so I wondered whether that would affect what went into a Cow & Gate jar in different countries.  And the answer?  While some recipes may vary for local preferences, the standards do not.  There's still no salt, minimal sugar (they are working on reducing & removing sugar in the small number of desserts that contain it), and the same high quality ingredients.  After all, who could say that one group of children deserve better quality food than another?

That was a big relief.  I remember last summer having some concerns over Squeaky's diet, and the things she would & wouldn't eat on holiday, and talking to other mums in the hotel having similar concerns.  I pointed them in the direction of the local supermarket, where I'd found the Cow & Gate fruit pouches that Squeaky loves.  I knew that way she was getting something good, and it was good to be able to share that discovery with the other mums.  To know that I'd got that right, and that the pouches were just the same as the ones she enjoys at home was a weight off my mind, even now.

If you want to read more, the full report is available on Cow & Gate's website -

And if you ever wondered how to spot the Mummy Blogger in a room full of journalists, PRs and food experts, the Mummy Blogger is the one taking notes in red wax crayon because she hasn't got a biro in her (massively oversized) bag.

This is not a sponsored post. I was invited to attend the press launch of the report, and have chosen to share information that I found interesting.  I was not obliged to write on the subject, nor told what to include.  

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