G N I T F I L
Report by Fiona Wilcock
Independent Public Health Nutritionist
What is this report about? In Spring 2012 I was invited by Cow & Gate to write an independent report about exactly what goes into a jar of their baby food and what does not. As 41 million jars of Cow & Gate baby food are sold each year*, it matters enormously to Cow & Gate that the provenance and quality of their foods is unquestionable. This report details the journey of discovery I made, outlining the path that individual ingredients make from the farm through the factory to the end consumer – a vulnerable baby. Apart from my own research, the report uses the wealth of information I gleaned on the way. I met with farmers and producers in different countries, spoke to suppliers in Europe and South America, and had access to nutritionists, product developers and ingredient buyers in the UK and Europe.
* Nielsen MAT data w/e 2nd May 2012.
My background is as an independent public health nutritionist and food writer, and I have worked with the parenting press, with retailers and manufacturers, including the baby food industry, and written widely about pregnancy and infant nutrition. Having some inside knowledge, I felt it was particularly important to ask searching questions which might be tricky to answer, and could possibly reveal information Cow & Gate would not be comfortable with. As an independent consultant I wanted to establish the facts so that I could present a clear picture of the quality and provenance of Cow & Gate baby food. This report presents what I learnt, and I haven’t been asked to omit or fudge information that may not reflect well on Cow & Gate.
What I wanted to find out This report is about what I found when I lifted the lid on Cow & Gate baby food and how it is made. In it I reveal the impressive quality of Cow & Gate baby food today. I now know that even if I bought the highest quality ingredients, organic or not, I couldn’t match the degree of quality assurance that Cow & Gate baby foods have. My training in home economics and nutrition took place in the 1980s – at a time when the food industry was starting to churn out the first ready meals. Commercial baby foods of this era sometimes had a poor reputation, possibly deservedly, and I wanted to find out if this 1980s’ thinking about baby food still had any substance to it. When my own children were born in the 1990s, I did what I thought best: breastfeeding, then cooking from scratch, incorporating plenty of fruit and vegetables and lean meat, limiting the use of sugar and avoiding salt. In case you are wondering I did use some jars and packets of baby food but regarded them with a degree of suspicion. After all they may have contained preservatives or fillers I didn’t want. So now my children are in their teens, researching this report has given me the chance to see if baby food has moved with the times.
I wanted to find answers to some key questions because I, like all parents, think that babies deserve the best, particularly as they are so vulnerable:
W here do Cow & Gate foods come from and who produces them? W hat are baby grade ingredients and how do they compare to organic ones? What standards are used for animal welfare and sustainability? W hat actually goes into a jar of Cow & Gate baby food? H ow are the ingredients handled and processed, and are nutrients lost? H ow does Cow & Gate baby food compare to home cooked? I discovered the answers to these questions as I talked and met with suppliers and Cow & Gate employees. I’ve grouped the answers to these questions into sections:
• The sourcing story • Growing baby grade • Animal welfare and sustainability • The manufacturing process • Manufactured and homemade baby food • My conclusions
the sourcing story I learnt a lot about the philosophy of Cow & Gate while I was researching t