European Baby Formula vs American Baby Formula

Comparisons are often made between European and American baby formulas due to the different rules and regulations that govern them. But what does organic baby formula really consist of? And what makes European baby formula better than formula from the US?

European Commission and the FDA

The best place to start is the European Commission, the body in charge of European baby formula certifications and regulations. The EC decides what nutrients must go into a baby formula product for it to be sold in Europe, as well as standards for the labels and general food safety. The American equivalent of the EC is the Food and Drug Administration, also known as the FDA – however, there are many differences between the two bodies. Both set the guidelines for their respective areas, but those guidelines are different.

The Regulations

There are requirements for how many calories, micronutrients, and macronutrients can be included in baby formula, with the European Commission and FDA setting minimums and maximums. When you put them side by side, the rules on proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are pretty similar across the EC and FDA. The same can be said of micronutrients, including calcium, folic acid, vitamin B, choline, and more. In essence, the regulations surrounding the EC and FDA look to force brands to get formula as close to natural breast milk as possible, ensuring the food is not only safe to consume, but healthy and nutritious too.

What makes the European Commission better?

In short, the EC is known to be far stricter on its regulations than the FDA, even maintaining rules over formula stages, allowances, exclusions, and extra inclusions. An EC certification, therefore, holds a little more weight than an FDA certification. 

Nutrients – Every baby formula product includes carbohydrates to give your child energy and there are normally sourced from sugars and starches. The list of carbohydrate sources allowed by the EC is very small, featuring the likes of glucose, lactose, maltose, glucose syrup, maltodextrins, gelatinized starch, and pre-cooked starch. Corn syrup is not among the allowed sources – despite it being one of the most popular sources in American products. The EC enforces that a minimum of 30% of a formula’s carbohydrates must come from lactose, because this is the normal main source in breast milk. The same rule does not carry over to the US, so American formulas can legally contain zero lactose.

Exclusions – The EC also has rules on what ingredients cannot be used in certified baby formula products, as well as what ingredients can only be conditionally used. All sources of carbohydrates in baby formulas have to be gluten-free. Sucrose cannot be used unless the formula has hydrolyzed proteins, and even then, it can only amount to 20% of the total carbohydrate level. Fat in baby formula cannot come from cottonseed or sesame oil. Baby formula cannot contain gums (guar and locust) or soluble fibers (fructan or pectin).

Inclusions – As more and more research goes into breast milk and the needs of babies, the EC has adapted its regulations on what can be included in baby formula. Since 2020, all baby formula made for children through the first 12 months of their lives must include DHA, which is seen as an essential fatty acid. If a formula has hydrolyzed proteins as an ingredient, it must also include L-Carnitine to maintain a healthy energy metabolism. Unlike many US products, a lot of baby formulas in Europe include probiotics and amino acids. European formulas are also allowed to use goat’s milk, which is now allowed in America. These products are seen as great options for children who cannot efficiently break down cow’s milk in their stomachs.

Stages – Breast milk does not stay the same throughout the whole breastfeeding process. The properties of the milk adapt to what the baby needs over time. The EC has taken that into account with its rules and regulations, which is why European formulas are staged. Stage 1 products are meant for newborns, stage 2 for six months and over, and stage three for ten/twelve months and over (depending on where you live).

Certifications – Nearly every single baby formula is considered organic in Europe, with many specifically using organic ingredients. The main examples of non-organic products are those that contain protein hydrolysates or locust bean gum because there is simply no organic alternative to those ingredients. If a baby formula has an EC certification, it guarantees that the product is made from animal milk with zero hormones, pesticide residue, or GMOs. There are even stricter requirements for certain certifications in Europe, such as the Demeter and Bioland certifications. Some companies are also taking steps to cut down on their carbon footprint, by using renewable energy and also protecting the ecosystem by not using ingredients like fish oil.

Whole milk options – There are formulas in Europe that use whole cow’s milk or whole goat’s milk, while every formula in the US uses skimmed milk. This is because skimmed milk is an easier base to use when looking to copy the fatty acids found in breast milk using vegetable oil. However, whole milk provides a natural mammalian fat source instead. Some formulas that use whole milk also include Milk Fat Globule Membrane (MFGM) as a result, which is found in breast milk and can improve cognitive development. Interestingly, whole milk is also supposed to taste a lot better than skimmed milk options.

Why European Baby Formula Is Better

The ingredients used in European baby formula products are better, simply because the requirements set out by the European Commission are also better. The nutrients you find in European baby formulas are much closer to natural breast milk, and the EC does not allow ingredients such as guar gum and corn syrup, which are not ideal for young babies. There are so many amazing European options out there, the issue becomes choosing the perfect one for you and your baby.