European Baby Formula Irradiation and Other Clever (but Untrue) Marketing Claims…But Maybe You Should Think Twice About That Cinnamon on Your Oatmeal

David Smith
Apr 16, 2019 · 4 min read

The simple truth is that European organic baby formula, such as HiPP or Holle, is never “irradiated,” no matter how it is imported, distributed or sold. It doesn’t matter whether you are buying your formula from a US website, from a European vendor, or from your cousin’s German friend in some city with a couple umlauts. You SHOULD be concerned about where you are buying your baby formula, but concerns around “irradiation” are simply not relevant.

The topic of irradiation is a huge area of such misinformation on the internet. In a recent survey of US sellers of HiPP and Holle formulas, we found a variety of vendor claims on this subject.

One blog article based on an interview with the owner of one of the US importers of HiPP and Holle tells us: “you can be sure [our] formula isn’t irradiated because [we] ship through containers (not air) 90% of the time. Sometimes [we] do ship in through air if [we] are running low for some units. In that case, [we] put in paperwork asking not to be irradiated due to the nature of the product and that has worked.”

On another US-based European infant formula vendor’s own website, it is stated that, “[the Company] ensures that each shipment has the appropriate paperwork and labeling that is necessary to avoid irradiation and tampering of the package contents.”

Food irradiation is an industrial-scale process that commonly uses between 150 sieverts and 3,000 sieverts of radiation to kill bacteria and sterilize certain types of food. Sieverts are the way radiation is measured. 150 sieverts (or more) is roughly equivalent to 15,000 abdominal CT scans. That’s a lot of radiation and concerns around food irradiation are not unfounded.

These concerns about food irradiation were never lost on German regulators, in particular, which have implemented some of the strictest irradiation laws in place globally. This is why Germany does not allow food irradiation, except for certain dried spices and herbs, such as cinnamon (which is almost always irradiated in developed countries, by the way). The US and certain other European countries, such as Holland, the United Kingdom, France and Belgium, have a differing stance on irradiation. These other countries permit irradiation for certain food categories produced or processed within their borders, such as fish, chicken, grains, and certain fruits and vegetables. Before you pack up and move to a biodynamic commune in the hills, you can rest assured that the EU requires that any product containing irradiated food or ingredients is labeled as such, often with the international Radura symbol or a reference to irradiated ingredients (“bestrahlte” in German).

In a recent interview with Blake from Bottles & Burps, he stated that, “The myth about irradiated European baby formula is nothing more than a clever marketing gimmick used by some US sellers. Today, in Germany and Switzerland, where HiPP and Holle formulas are actually made, the only domestically produced foods subjected to irradiation are dried herbs and spices. Germany is incredibly restrictive on irradiation.”

Let’s shift our focus now to x-ray scanners used to scan packages entering the United States. This is literally a world apart from “food irradiation.” The CDC and the TSA have conducted a number of studies on the subject of radiation resulting from carry-on baggage scanners, which is the same technology used by customs for imported parcels. One of the more authoritative studies notes (on page 24) that the highest level of radiation detected on an object after passing 36 times through the machine was 4 mrem or 40 microsieverts.

To put this into context, let’s refer to Ted LaBusa, an expert on food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, who also happened to study nuclear physics at MIT. According to LaBusa, just living in our environment we are exposed to 36,000 microsieverts of radiation per year.

This means that a package that passed through an x-ray scanner 36 times, could potentially absorb the same level of radiation as that you or I (or your formula) would absorb over the course of being out for 9 hours. Keep in mind that in the worst case scenario, any HiPP or Holle formula you buy from Bottles & Burps (or any other vendor for that matter), would be scanned once in Europe and once in the US upon arrival. This would equate, mathematically, to about 30 minutes of being outdoors.

In a fantastic National Public Radio article, the authors also examined the issue of x-ray scanning of food products following a story on how many US food makers are using x-ray scanners to scan for foreign objects. They conclude that the dose of radiation that the food receives from an x-ray scanner is equivalent to about 2.5 hours of sitting outside. Whether it’s 30 minutes or 2.5 hours of exposure to our environment is besides the key point: x-ray scanners used on packages should not be a concern if you live on planet Earth.

Blake commented further, “Every shipment of HiPP or Holle that arrives in the USA, via any channel, is potentially x-rayed at an airport of departure and upon arrival in the United States, whether the shipper “requests” that it not be x-rayed or not. The claims that certain US sellers ‘avoid irradiation’ by importing via sea freight or shipping container, which is, in and of itself, impossible for a variety of reasons, can also be discarded, as x-ray scanners are already in large-scale use at all major ports of entry in the United States. It really doesn’t matter if the importer requests for the CBP to not scan his container.”

I think it’s safe to conclude that x-ray scanners used on packages (including your HiPP or Holle formula) is not a real concern. However, if you are concerned about irradiation (very different from x-ray exposure), you may think twice about that cinnamon on your oatmeal.


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