World Breastfeeding Week starts today and the baby food industry is pulling a few tricks to try to defend the infant formula market. The simple fact is, the more mothers who breastfeed and the longer they breastfeed for, the less money companies are going to take. When the likes of Nestlé have promised shareholders 5-6% growth in sales every year, that is a problem.
The US is a good place to look to understand the true character of these companies. There is virtually no regulation of the market. Nestlé had to recall products for not having the compostion marked on the label at the end of last year, but when it comes to marketing, there are no controls. In the 1980s a voluntary ban on advertising between manufacturers and the American Academy of Pediatrics collapsed after Nestlé entered the market and refused to abide by it. See:
In the US today there is widespread advertising of infant formula and provision of free samples to mothers, whether they are formula-feeding or not.
As part of efforts to promote breastfeeding and World Breastfeeding Week in New York, city officials have decided to stop giving free samples of infant formula to mothers when they leave hospital. A report on Fox News describes this action of the 'nanny-like' authorities. See:
In one hospital they are celebrating the fact that 25% of mothers giving birth there are now breastfeeding.
According to the Fox report: "The infant-formula industry said it supports encouraging more breast-feeding, but is opposed to banning distribution of product samples."
Free samples are, of course, prohibited by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and have been since 1981. Companies are called on to ensure their practices comply independently of government measures.
If you want to vote in a media poll supporting the ban on samples see wxyz.com.
I recall in public debates I have had with Nestlé executives they have said that in the past infant formula was marketed 'like Kit-Kats', with the suggestion this was normal in the 1960s and 1970s. But the fact is they do continue to market formula like chocolate bars unless there are external controls on them.
Monitoring by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) shows similar strategies to those used in the US are used in other countries, to a greater or lesser degree. It is only where we have succeeded in bringing in legislation or expose and target malpractice through our campaigns that the situation changes.
Our IBFAN partners in Pakistan, the Network for Consumer Protection, used the start of World Breastfeeding Week to draw attention to aggressive marketing practices. Pakistan does have a law, that was introduced in 2002 as a direct result of Baby Milk Action's campaigning and the work of The Network, which had conducted extensive monitoring, and a former Nestlé employee, Syed Aamir Raza, who provided internal company documents detailing tactics such as the bribing of doctors.
The Network's Executive Coordinator, Dr Talib Lashari, is reported in the Daily Times:
"He said the Protection of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Ordinance, 2002 had also protected the right of an infant to have mother’s milk soon after birth, but it had yet to be implemented in letter and spirit due to certain hitches."
As Nestlé's formula marketing initiative this week in the US and IBFAN's monitoring demonstrates, left to their own devices, formula companies have no qualms about growing their sales by undermining breastfeeding, regardless of the consequencies for infant health and mothers' rights.
They battle against regulations and try to weaken them. That is why our work is so essential. Where independently monitored and enforced regulations are implemented, violations are stopped. In countries such as Brazil, which has exemplary measures, breastfeeding rates are recovering markedly. See a report on its World Breastfeeding Week campaign at:
As Dr. Lashari said in the Daily Times:
"Unfortunately, a lack of knowledge, illiteracy, ignorance, unethical marketing practices by baby milk substitute manufacturers and weak implementation of existing laws are major factors in the non-initiation of exclusive breastfeeding. It is a proven fact that breastfeeding can reduce infant and child morbidity and mortality."
This is why we need your support for our campaigns and to keep us operating. Become a member or purchasing materials from our on-line Virtual Shop is a great way to keep informed, spread the word and ensure that these powerful transnational corporations are held to account.