The Case of the Missing Limbs: France’s Birth Defect Crisis

Over a dozen cases of children born with missing limbs have come to light in France recently. Many of those cases are centered around the Ain and Brittany regions, which are rural areas.

The cases have prompted an investigation by the French national health agency, reports Barbie Latza Nadeau from The Daily Beast (1).

But so far, officials are scratching their heads at these anomalies. The affected regions aren’t that close together, and researchers aren’t finding many common factors from questioning parents.

According to The Daily Beast, the only factors officials know of are:

1. Kids were born in rural areas.
2. Upper limbs were affected.
3. The children were mostly born between the years 2011-2013.

To further boggle officials, another investigation is digging into similar cases in cows and chickens, reports Reuters (2).

Agnès Buzyn, the Health and Solidarity Minister in France, told French TV BFM:

“It could be an environmental issue. It could be what they ate or what they drank. It could be something that they’ve breathed in.”

Officials simply don’t know what could have caused these birth defects. Environmentalists are working alongside France’s health officials to determine a cause.

Since the areas affected are farming regions, officials think pesticides could be the culprit, reports The Daily Beast. If so, it would explain why parents haven’t been able to theorize a

Less than 2 out of every 10,000 births result in these specific birth defects in France, says Reuters.

However, the regions affected are showing a rate that’s 60 percent more than the norm, Buzyn told French TV BFM.

The investigation is set to give initial conclusions at the end of January. Final results will be released in June.

What We Know about Limb Birth Defects

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers don’t know exactly what causes missing limbs in children (3).

However, research suggests that exposure to certain chemicals, viruses or cigarette smoke during pregnancy may have an effect.

Some studies also suggest that mothers taking multivitamins before pregnancy may reduce their risk for these birth defects.

The CDC recommends that multivitamins contain at least 400 micrograms of folic acid.

For parents already dealing with limb defects, getting treatment early in their child’s life could prevent further difficulties later.

The cluster of birth defects in these French children is heart-wrenching. Thankfully, officials haven’t received reports of similar cluster cases in the last few years. However, let’s hope officials can find and eliminate the cause to ensure protection of their children in the future.

1. Nadeau, B. L. (2018, November 14). France’s Crisis Epidemic of Limbless Babies. The Daily Beast. Retrieved from

2. Clercq, G. D. (2018, October 31). France investigates reports of babies born without arms in rural areas. Reuters. Retrieved from

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, April 20). Birth Defects: Facts about Upper and Lower Limb Reduction Defects. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from