This New York Times article about organic baby formula, which ran on the front page of the national edition, is puzzling on several levels. Apparently some mothers (at least two!) who buy the organic version of Similac have been dismayed to learn that it contains sucrose instead of the lactose used by competitors. According to the Times, "All infant formulas contain added sugars, which babies need to digest the proteins in cow's milk or soy." But the supply of organic lactose has been tight lately, so Similac decided to use less-expensive (and sweeter) organic cane sugar instead.
Does that make the formula less healthy? The Times hems and haws on that question, citing clashing opinions regarding the effect that different sugars might have on tooth decay and obesity. The bottom line is there's no clear evidence sucrose is any worse for babies than lactose. "No health problems in babies have been associated with Similac Organic," the Times reports. Furthermore, "Doctors say that parents need not worry about the precise composition of formula, because the product over all has been proved safe and effective. "
Still, says one pediatrician, "That organic formula would be sweeter might not be a health risk, but it certainly isn't what the parents [who buy organic products] have in mind." A taste researcher concurs: "Making sweeter formula so that babies like it more seems to me contrary to the ethos of organic food."
What exactly does that mean? As far as the U.S. Department of Agriculture is concerned, the Times notes, "a product can be labeled organic when 95 percent of its ingredients are grown without the use of certain pesticides and herbicides." So a product can meet this standard, or even hit the 100 percent mark, but still not be organic in spirit? And if the ethos is so demanding, can any sort of baby formula truly be organic, since breast milk is both more natural and healthier?
Ron Bailey recently noted several myths about organic food, including the notion that it's especially healthy.