Urgent action must be taken to reduce the carbon footprint of baby formula and toddler milks, a specialised economist says.
Dr Julie Smith, who has studied the economics of infant feeding for over 20 years, says greenhouse gas emissions caused by milk formula production have contributed to global environmental damage.
"The last decade has seen a global boom in formula feeding but this takes the world backwards in the face of contemporary global environmental and population health challenges," the Australian National University researcher said on Wednesday.
In a paper published in the International Breastfeeding Journal, Dr Smith argued much of the increase in emissions from formula manufacturing can be linked to the expanding toddler milk product market.
She said the products were not only harmful for the environment, but the World Health Organisation has deemed it unnecessary and potentially harmful for children.
"We have got to reduce the manufacture and use of milk formula," Dr Smith said.
"Australia, together with New Zealand, is a significant player in the region - especially with our exports and marketing of toddler milk to China."
A halve in Chinese breastfeeding rates over the past decade has been attributed largely to heavy marketing of formula products and time pressures, but Dr Smith's research says mothers and young children now face heightened risks.
"Breastfeeding populations are more resilient in emergencies, and there are effective and cost-effective policies and interventions for increasing breastfeeding and reducing unnecessary use of formula," she said.