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Social storm pushes Woolworths to remove infant drink

By RJ Whitehead , 27-Nov-2012

A social media storm and petition have prompted Australian supermarket Woolworths to withdraw all juice supplies of infant drink brand Bebi from its shelves, although its infant suitable water line will remain.

The Bebi fruit drink range claims to be the world’s first infant-suitable beverage, and is marketed to infants from six months. The bottle the juice is sold in comes with a teat, just like a baby’s bottle.

However, midwife and mother Jessica Williams began a petition at Change.org calling for Woolworths, which appeared to be the only stockist of the product, to stop selling the drink.

Misleading for parents

She said: “Parents should be able to choose what to feed their babies, but calling these drinks safe is misleading, and a lot parents will be confused into thinking they’re perfectly healthy. I know this will happen because I see it all the time at work.”

Even when diluted, fruit juice contains natural sugars that can lead to tooth decay. According to Dr James Best, GP and author of the upcoming book Kidsense: “To market this sort of product for babies sets them up for bad dietary habits and is simply irresponsible. Drinks containing sugar, including juice, are not needed by small children. 

It is far healthier for children to have fruit rather than fruit juice. Not only does the sugar in the drinks contribute to childhood obesity, but there are serious and common dental decay problems.”

However, Peter Bares, chief executive of Poppet International, which manufactures the Bebi range, has assured FoodNavigator-Asia that Bebi infant suitable juices meet all food regulation requirements set out by FSANZ 

A number of customers attacked Woolworths on Facebook, with one arguing that the supermarket was to blame for turning babies into “toothless diabetics”.

"This is just another example of a big business targeting those who don't know better, and those who are too young to complain until they are toothless diabetics at 30,” said the consumer, who identified herself as a doctor and mother.

Removing stock

With the petition now over 13,000 signatures, Woolworths has decided to take action. “

It has since posted a statement on its corporate website saying: “We've consulted our in-house nutritionist and discussed the ranging of this product.

What is clear is that there is widespread debate about the suitability of a juice product made specifically for infants. Given this, we've listened to our concerned customers and made the decision to delist the Bebi organic white grape fruit drink and Bebi organic apple and banana fruit drink from our range and it will come off our shelves over coming weeks.”

The debate follows on from another Choice investigation last week, which claimed that some Australian brands had been using a trademark loophole to promote foods as “organic”, “natural” or “healthy” in their brand names.

Editor's note: This story raises a number of interesting questions about the power of social media and online petitions. We have contacted the manufacturer of Bebi and hope to publish its take on the matter shortly.

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