France has launched a nationwide inquiry after a spate of babies have been born with deformities across the country.
Over the past 15 years, 25 infants have been delivered in three regions, including Brittany, with missing or malformed arms.
The defects have sparked a public health scare, with authorities admitting the rate of disabilities is ‘excessive’.
Although unclear what the cause is, some are blaming pesticides due to cases being clustered in rural areas and calves being born in the same regions without tails.
France has launched a nationwide inquiry after a spate of babies have been born with limb deformities across the country. Over the past 15 years, 25 infants have been delivered in three regions, including Brittany, with missing or malformed arms (stock)
Francois Bourdillon, head of the agency Public Health France, confirmed a national investigation is ‘underway’ and the results would be released in around three months.
‘Nothing is being hidden from you,’ he assured listeners of RTL radio.
‘We will look at all suspect cases.’
Confidence in the state’s handling of the issue took a blow on Monday night when health authorities reported 11 cases that took place between 2000 and 2014.
These occurred in the Ain area near the Swiss border and were identified via hospital records.
And they had not previously been made public.
In total, around 25 cases have been detected in the past 15 years in Brittany, Loire-Atlantique, which is south of Brittany, and Ain in eastern France.
Seven of these babies were born between 2009 and 2014 within 17km of the village Druillat, Ain.
And three were born in 2007 or 2008 in the western part of Loire-Atlantique.
Guidel, a town in Brittany, was identified as another problem area after the mother of one of the three babies born with limb defects in 2011-to-2013 alerted authorities.
Although a relatively small number, the defects caused alarm after being widely reported by the French media.
The issue was made public by a scientist at the Remera public health body, which was created after the thalidomide scandal and is responsible for tracking birth defects.
WHAT WAS THE THALIDOMIDE SCANDAL?
Thalidomide was the medication given to pregnant women to combat morning sickness between 1958 and 1961.
It was withdrawn after doctors noticed an increase in the number of deformed babies born to mothers who had been on the drug.
After a long battle, the families affected received total of £28 million in compensation, paid out by the drug manufacturer during the 1970s.
The scientist, Emmanuelle Amar, has been hailed as a whistleblower by ecologists and campaigners, but has also been accused of scare-mongering by fellow researchers.
Speaking on why these incidents may have occurred, Health Minister Agnes Buzyn told the TV channel BFM yesterday: ‘We don’t want to exclude anything.
‘I want to know, I think all of France wants to know.
‘Maybe it is due to what these women ate, drank or breathed in,’ she said.
An initial inquiry earlier this month declared limb defects are no worse in western France than elsewhere in the country.
Public Health France put out a statement saying ‘the statistical analysis does not highlight an excess of cases compared to the national average’.
But Ms Buzyn said it was ‘unacceptable’ that the investigation did not get to the bottom of the problem.
‘We are definitely facing an excess of cases,’ Mr Amar said.
‘We have the scientific and moral obligation to go further.’
Even without the newly-discovered 11 cases, scientists have said the number of birth defects in Ain was 58 times the normal amount, The Local reported.
The probe has since been widened and will be jointly run by the health agency and the sanitation, food and environment agency, WHBL reported.
Ms Buzyn said investigators will try to determine if the affected families have anything in common.
‘It is very complicated, we need to investigate the history of families in cases which sometimes date back ten years or more,’ she said.
Remera has already tested mothers of the affected for numerous substances they may have been exposed to during pregnancy – including drink and drugs – with no clear explanation being found.
‘We interviewed all the mothers with a very extensive questionnaire on their lifestyle,’ the body’s director Emmanuelle Amar said.
‘The only thing they have in common is that they all live in a very rural area.’
Doctors at Remera have pointed the finger at pesticides, noting several calves being born at the same time as the affected babies without tails or missing ribs in Ain.
Others believe the defects could be genetic.
The state health agency has previously said the abnormalities were ‘probably down to chance’.
‘We listened to their parents and their grandparents, visited the places where they live,’ Anne Gallay, a director at Public Health France, said.
‘No environmental factors – pesticides, for example – could be questioned.’
The body has previously said the cases were probably ‘down to chance’.
However, Remera has dismissed the likelihood of the defects being down to chance as ‘more than infinitesimal’.
According to Public Health France, around 150 babies are born each year with limb defects.
However, this data is based on just a few regional registers, which only takes into account 19 per cent of the country.
There is no national register measuring limb defects at birth throughout France.
This comes after thousands of babies around the world were born with missing or stunted limbs in the 1950s and 1960s, which was linked to the drug thalidomide.
Thalidomide used to treat nausea in pregnant women and was banned in the 1960s.