Potential risks identified from erucic acids in infant food

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German researchers have identified two scenarios where erucic acid in baby food could exceed recommended levels and potential pose a risk to infant health.

Erucic acid is a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid occurring as a glycerol ester in oil-rich seeds of the brassica family, including rapeseed and mustard. Excessive amounts can lead to a weakened heart (myocardial lipidosis), induce mitochondrial damage and ‘disorganisation of myofibrils’,​ and provoke myocardial necrosis and fibrosis.

An exposure assessment of erucic levels in infant formula, follow-on formula and baby food carried out by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment reveals that in ‘worst-case scenarios’​ erucic acid intake could increase to 8.5 mg/kg body weight/day and exceed the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) derived tolerable daily intake (TDI) in high consumers of baby food.

The authors wrote: “A health risk resulting from the intake of erucic acid can arise for infants aged between 6 and 12 months if high consumers of baby food receive an extra tsp rapeseed oil with erucic acid content of 0.2% or more in their baby food.”

Evaluation model

A number of models were used to assess the conditions under which the intake of erucic acid by infants exceeds EFSA-derived TDI.

One assessment assumed infant formula and follow-on formula contained the maximum permitted erucic acid value of 0.4% of fat content specified in the EU Delegated Regulation 2019/828. In this scenario, the researchers say the EFSA TDI value for erucic acid of 7 mg/kg body weight/day will be significantly exceeded.

Of the 95 children in this age group, 80 consumed infant formula or follow-on formula resulting in a dietary intake of 0.56 mg/kg body weight/day erucic acid for normal consumers and 1.20 mg/kg body weight/day for high consumers.

The total determined intake of erucic acid for normal consumers was valued at 3.83 mg/kg body weight/day, and 7.06 mg/kg body weight/day for high consumers – marginally exceeding recommended levels.

Health risks

An ‘estimation of erucic acid intake when adding rapeseed oil to industrially produced baby food’ (recommended by The German Child Nutrition Research Unit (FKE)) was carried out. The results indicate that if one teaspoon (approximately 3 g) of rapeseed oil with an erucic acid concentration of 0.52% is added to industrially produced baby food, high consumers of baby food would exceed the TDI (121%) with an erucic acid intake to 8.5 mg/kg body weight/day.

Rapeseed oil contains one of the highest levels of erucic acid levels in edible oils (50% of total fatty acid content) but is typically used in infant and follow-on formula as it has a high nutritional value compared with other edible oils. It contains high levels of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (essential for human health) and low levels of saturated fatty acids.

Data from the assessment reveal it is one of the main oils used in processed cereal-based food with milk. It was also present in 9 out of 10 baby food products listed and was the only fat used in 20 out of 22 vegetable-based foods with proportions ranging from 0.3% to 3%.

However, the authors point out that it is not the predominant source of fat in the product categories mentioned. “This approach ensures the fulfilment of the legal provisions of Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/127 with regard to the specific compositional and information requirements for infant formula and follow-on formula.”

Finally, model based on data from food monitoring programmes of the Federal States of Germany showed levels of erucic acid in all products under review were well below the legal maximum permitted level of 0.4% of the total fat content.

Conclusion & recommendations

Overall findings from the current assessment show erucic acid levels in infant formula, follow-on formula and baby food adhere to legal health requirements. However, TDI levels of all three infant food types slightly exceeded legal TDI levels in “high consumers”​ (7.1mg/kg body weight/day) but were not exhausted where consumption was considered “normal”​.

Further toxicological data is required, the authors say, to produce risk assessments on other docosenoic acids present in edible oils and fats, as well as foods with added oil and fat (and especially cetoleic acid), which occurs in fish in high amounts.

Source: German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment

Published June 4, 2021: DOI 10.17590/20210629-131949

“Infant nutrition: Health risks due to erucic acid are not to be expected”

Author : German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment

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