Prosecutors probe baby food maker
12 November 2003 , BIELEFELD - Public prosecutors in Germany announced Wednesday that a female employee of a company which delivered substandard baby milk formula to Israel, resulting in the deaths of two babies, was under investigation for manslaughter.
12 November 2003
BIELEFELD - Public prosecutors in Germany announced Wednesday that a female employee of a company which delivered substandard baby milk formula to Israel, resulting in the deaths of two babies, was under investigation for manslaughter.
A spokesman for the prosecutor's office in Bielefeld in the west of the country confirmed a report in the daily paper Westfalen Blatt about an investigation at the Humana Milchunion company.
But he said only one employee was under investigation for manslaughter by negligence and not three as reported in the paper.
Further details were to be disclosed later Wednesday.
Israel's Health Ministry confirmed Wednesday that two babies, not three as stated in initial reports, had died from consuming the German-produced milk substitute.
The ministry knew of 15 certain cases of babies who fell ill with beriberi, a disease caused by vitamin B1 deficiency which can lead to brain damage, because they were fed on the soy-based formula, a spokeswoman said.
Two of them have died, she told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
In the nightmare of every baby-food company, Humana Milchunion in Herford admitted Tuesday that it had accidentally left out the key ingredient after a mathematical error when devising the formula.
Conceding partial responsibility, Humana Milchunion confirmed it should have added vitamin B1, also known as thiamin, to the kosher formula, a protein-rich milk substitute that is based on soybeans.
Without vitamin B1, babies lose appetite, become short of breath, lose muscle mass and can suffer cardiac circulatory collapse. Doctors say beriberi occurs in breast-fed babies too if the mother suffers from vitamin B1 deficiency.
Michel Krawinkel, a German dietary researcher and paediatrician, said it was a difficult disease to spot, because heart damage could have other causes and it often took weeks to complete all the necessary laboratory tests.
Albert Grosse Frie, chief of the Humana board, blamed "human error" and "a chain of unfortunate circumstances". The staff responsible would be punished. He said Humana would cooperate with investigating authorities, adding, "We have nothing to hide."
The calculations for the recipe were inaccurate, with chemists wrongly assuming that soybeans naturally contained excessive vitamin B1.
"We have been caught up in a unique chain of unfortunate circumstances and would like to emphasize that this was a unique case that does not affect any other of our products," said Grosse Frie.
The error happened in spring this year, when Humana devised a new product to replace two earlier formulas. A mathematical mistake led the chemists to the "fatal error" of thinking that supplementary B1 would lead to the babies being overdosed with the vitamin.
In Israel, police questioned managers of the Israeli distributor following an order from the attorney-general for a criminal investigation. The company was suspected of "causing death by negligence".
In Berlin, the Consumer Affairs Ministry appealed to all baby- formula manufacturers to check the composition of their formula.
"We have to ensure other makers have not made similar mistakes," said a spokesman for the minister, Renate Kuenast. The newspaper Bild quoted her demanding a "no-holds-barred investigation to ensure such a ghastly error never happens again".
Subject: German news