Some say milliliters, some say kilocalories
Materna baby food products are currently not available for sale in the United States due to problems with the labels on its baby formula tins. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advised Materna several months ago of the problem, noting that "certain nutrients were inadequately declared on the label and there were also significant labeling violations."
For its part, Materna acknowledges that it is not currently supplying its products to the American market. The company says, however, that the FDA had not asked that the products be pulled from the shelves, but only that the labeling be changed.
Explaining the FDA's objections, Materna said, for example, that its nutritional information was listed per 100 milliliters or 100 grams of prepared product, and not per 100 kilocalories, as required by the FDA. Materna also said the U.S. agency was demanding that all of the Hebrew labeling on the packaging be translated into English.
As a result of the FDA move, Israeli parents planning trips to the United States and expecting to be able to buy Materna formula there will instead have to stock up on formula here and take it with them, or buy another brand during their stay there.
"I contacted a friend [in the United States] and was surprised when he told me Materna was unavailable in the stores and that I would need to bring a supply from Israel," related Shai, who is traveling to the United States shortly with his infant daughter. "I had hoped to avoid the bother of lugging containers with me."
Sources in the baby food industry expressed surprise that Materna, which has been selling its products in the United States for some time, did not issue a press release advising the public of the problem. The unavailability of Materna will not only affect Israelis traveling in the United States, but all the more so the religious Jewish public in America for whom Materna is the only brand that is under strict kosher supervision, Materna's kashrut certification includes the stricter "Halav Yisrael" designation that indicates that it has not been mixed with other milk.
Unlike their attitude toward other products, parents of young children tend to have strong loyalties to their baby food brands. There is particular sensitivity in Israel to the safety of formula following the Remedia scandal in 2003, when babies died of malnutrition due to a lack of Vitamin B in the company's non-dairy range of formula.
Materna exports a range of kosher baby foods from Israel to the United States, Canada and European markets. It is not currently known when the products will return to the shelves of American supermarkets. Osem-Nestle completed acquisition of a 51% stake in Materna from Kibbutz Ma'abarot at the end of 2009 for NIS 268.5 million.
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