Last updated on 27 March 2014
Goats' milk formula not a solution for cows' milk allergic infants
Goats' milk infant and follow-on formula is now permitted for sale in the UK, following changes to the regulations in February. However, the FSA is warning that it is unlikely to be suitable for infants with a cows' milk protein allergy.
The change to the regulation is the result of an opinion published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). It found that protein from goats' milk can be suitable as a protein source for infant and follow-on formula, as long as the final product complies with the relevant criteria on the composition, labelling and advertising of such products (see Directive 2006/141/EC via the 'External sites' link on this page).
Proceed with caution
EFSA has warned that goats’ milk formula may not be suitable for infants with an allergy to cow’ milk proteins. The proteins in cows’ and goats’ milk are so similar that a baby allergic to one would almost certainly be allergic to the other.
‘Many parents may be keen to feed their babies formula based on goats’ milk as an alternative if their child is allergic to cow’s milk. However, there is a high risk of cross reactivity between cows’ and goats’ milk proteins,’ explains Sue Hattersley, head of food allergy at the FSA. ‘As a result, it’s important that parents understand that goats’ milk formula is not suitable for infants with a cows’ milk protein allergy, unless directed by a healthcare professional,’ she adds.
Given this risk, manufacturers will not be permitted to market goats’ milk-based formula milks as suitable for children with cows’ milk allergies.
More information about this issue can be found in the FSA paper via the link towards the end of this page.
Science behind the story
Cows’ milk protein allergy is the most frequent food allergy in the first years of life. The World Allergy Organization estimates that 1.9% to 4.9% of children suffer from a cows’ milk protein allergy.
Milk from other mammalian species has been suggested as a possible nutritional alternative to cows’ milk for these infants. However, clinical studies have shown a high risk of cross-reactivity between the proteins in cows’ milk and in other mammalian milk, including goats’ milk. In addition, there have been cases where infants with a cows’ milk allergy have developed anaphylaxis after the ingestion of goat's milk. Severe anaphylaxis episodes can be fatal.
Given the high risk of cross reactivity between cows’ and goats’ milk proteins, the Government advises that goats’ milk infant and follow-on formula are not suitable for infants with a cows’ milk protein allergy, unless directed by a healthcare professional.