Should infant and follow-on formula continue to contain arachidonic acid in the future?

A position paper of the European Academy of Paediatrics and the Child Health Foundation

From February 2020 onwards, new standards for infant and follow-on formula will be in effect in the European Union (Commission Delegated Regulation 2016/127). The new standards stipulate the obligatory addition of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid) at concentrations 2-3 times higher than typically found in human milk and in DHA-containing infant formula used during the last 2 decades. However, there is no obligation to add the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid, which is also contained in human breast milk.

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Major concerns have been raised on this novel composition of infant formula stipulated by the EU legislation, because suitability and safety has not been established in clinical studies. Therefore, in May 2019,  the German non-profit Child Health Foundation (, in co-operation with the European Academy of Paediatrics (, held a scientific workshop with international paediatricians and researchers specialised in paediatric nutrion as well as representatives of parent organisations. At this workshop, the experts explored the issues around the new legislation; their conclusions and recommendations have now been published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The experts criticise the new European regulation for infant formula. They strongly recommend providing infants who are not or not fully breastfed with infant formula that supplies both DHA and arachidonic acid, with at least the same amount of arachidonic acid as of DHA. Formulae whose composition is more similar to human milk have been shown to be suitable and safe in numerous studies and have been widely used for more than 20 years.