The Wyeth/SMA formula promotion with the Katie Price (Jordan) and Peter Andre feature in the current issue of OK! magazine is causing a storm of discussion on the internet. I reported on the product placement and advertisement on this blog on Friday. See:
I want to explain here why I am not joining the rush to condemn Jordan - at least not yet.
After just a few comments had been left on Friday's blog entry, I decided to disable them. The reason being that, as on the discussion boards, some comments were directed at Jordan and I didn't want attention diverted from Wyeth/SMA. That only had a limited effect as the otherwise excellent report in The Independent on Sunday, picking up on the story, ran with the headline "Breast-feeding lobby criticises Jordan for infant formula 'stunt'". See:
The fact is, we don't yet know the level of Jordan's involvement in the promotion. For example, did she have a contract with Wyeth/SMA or free supplies of the ready-to-feed formula pictured? Or did the photographer from OK! pose the shot (just so, with the label turned to camera) and then some bright spark at the magazine put in a call to Wyeth? I've contacted OK! and Wyeth and tried to reach Katie Price via her fan club website. These are important questions to be answered. In reporting the promotion to the Advertising Standards Authority and Trading Standards, their investigations should reveal the truth. If you want to register complaints yourself you can do so following links at:
In the Independent on Sunday report Wyeth says the placing of their advertisement on the page following the product-placement shot is 'coincidence'. I guess they claim the same about the fact the ginger hair of Jordan's child is echoed in the 'carrot in your hair' headline on the advertisement. I explain below why I don't give much credence to the 'coincidence' line.
Let's go with what we do know. There are the comments from Katie and Peter in the article. I understand celebrities have copy approval with such articles so I'm going to trust the quotes are accurate.
Katie (I'm never sure whether to call her Katie or Jordan) extols the virtues of the ready-to-feed bottles, of which she has 20 crates. A great celebrity endorsement for SMA. As people in the public eye, we do appeal to celebrities to take care with comments that will influence others. According to a government survey, 34% of mothers incorrectly believe that formula is the same or almost the same as breastfeeding. Portrayals of formula feeding as a lifestyle choice propagate what the Department of Health calls 'myths'. See:
While it is Katie's decision how she feeds her child and no-one should set out to make a mother feel guilty, the comments will have an impact in idealizing and glamourising formula feeding. Materials dealing with infant feeding are required to include certain information by article 21 of the UK law. It is for the authorities to decide how culpable OK! is for not including this information (I'll be making these points in my official complaints, which I will share). See:
It may be a naive hope, but I do hope that Katie Price, Jordan, will react to the concern over the product promotion by supporting the campaign to hold baby food companies to account. As I state and re-state many times, our work aims to benefit mothers and babies who formula feed as well as those who breastfeed. Here is one thing we are looking for help with - providing accurate information on how to mix up formula safely. Katie is using ready-to-feed formula which is sterile, but very expensive. The majority of mothers will use powdered infant formula, which is not sterile. Research has found contamination with bacteria is worryingly common. The Food Standards Agency, UNICEF and health bodies provide information on how to reduce the risks, a significant point being to mix up the formula with water of at least 70 Deg. Centigrade. Companies not only refuse to give this information, they give information that contradicts it. Hipp has launched new labels which say to use water of 50 - 60 Deg. C. This will not kill the bacteria and, I suspect, may even incubate it. This is a scandal and mothers who use formula are invited to join us in campaigning to protect their right for accurate information. For more on this issue and sources of reliable information on mixing up powdered infant formula, see:
There is a more fundamental reason why I think we should be a little slower to condemn Jordan for her comments. She gives her reasons in OK! for not breastfeeding. She is quoted as follows:
"I don’t want a baby drinking from me. The thought of it makes me feel really funny. I think only a certain person could handle my knockers."
This reflects the view of breasts as solely sexual objects - when in reality they are far more versatile. Certainly as a 'glamour model' Jordan has promoted that view, but presumably as one she already held.
While we hear in breastfeeding circles of how wonderful an experience it can be once established (and the first few weeks are miserable for some, while mother and baby get used to it), clearly for Katie the thought alone is off-putting.
I remember a friend saying she didn't want to breastfeed her own child because she was not a cow. It seemed ironic to me that she would instead give her child modified cow's milk, when it was not a calf. Mammals drink their mothers milk. But logic is not necessarily going to overcome feelings that have developed and solidified over many years.
Some of the comments on the discussion boards are strongly critical of Katie, not for formula feeding or for holding these views, but for putting them forward in the article. For some she is a villain.
It brings to mind a piece of wisdom that has served me well: don't automatically attribute to ill will what can also be explained by thoughtlessness.
Attacks on Jordan echo with other comments I have heard about mothers in developing countries. Sometimes people suggest Baby Milk Action should leave the companies alone because, they argue, it is a mother's fault if she decides to use formula and her child becomes malnourished and dies as a result. Mothers are not stupid, the arguments runs, so they are responsible.
I don't think that is the majority view. We hear of mothers like Gloria in the Philippines, who believed promotional messages that formula would make her child, Miguel, more intelligent. When Miguel became malnourished and she learned how he would have been protected by breastfeeding, she joined a protest outside the Supreme Court in defence of regulations on the marketing of the baby food companies. Here they are.
You may have already seen from our Philippines campaign, the television advertising exposed in the UNICEF Philippines film (click here) and claims such as those on Nestlé Nestogen infant formula that it contains 'Brain Building Blocks' (click here). This promotion influences people - that is its purpose. They may end up recommending formula to neighbours or family.
Should we see the individuals in the rich world who spread misinformation about formula as villains and those in developing countries as victims? Or should we cut through all that and look more closely at the cultures and empower women to change them?
When Gloria learned she had been misled she took to the streets calling for the authorities to protect mothers. I hope Katie will learn from the controversy over the Wyeth/SMA promotion, whether she was a knowing and willing participant or not. She could turn this around by making a strong statement to counter the impact of the promotion and by joining in the calls on the UK government to protect all mothers from aggressive marketing.
Health advocates, such as the Breastfeeding Manifesto coalition, are calling on the government to implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions. The Code was adopted in 1981. There is no excuse for further delay. The UK law is being revised. We want to see full implementation. Support the campaign here:
We are all products of our culture and, in turn, propagate it. The UK is currently very much a bottle-feeding culture. Only 76% of mothers initiate breastfeeding and by 6 weeks over half have stopped breastfeeding. 90% of mothers who stopped by six months say they wanted to breastfeed for longer. They are failed by lack of support systems and lack of controls on baby food marketing. In Sweden 98% of mothers initiate breastfeeding and the tail off is far less marked. The difference is not biological. It is cultural and political.
Countries such as Brazil have succeeded in reversing the decline in breastfeeding in their countries. See:
We can do the same in the UK. We can support mothers so they are able to say they breastfed as long as they wanted. We can ensure information on formula-feeding is improved to reduce the risks of its use.
We can put a stop to aggressive promotion such as that appearing in OK! magazine in what is World Breastfeeding Week.
Hopefully we can persuade celebrities that there is no contradiction between a decision to formula feed and taking care over public comments and encouraging government action over aggressive marketing and support for breastfeeding.
I'll let you know if we receive a response from Katie Price/Jordan. And if you do see any public response yourself, please post it here.
I don't have the same 'wait and see' attitude to Wyeth as it has legal responsibilities. Wyeth pushes formula around the world and is currently opposing the marketing regulations introduced by the Ministry of Health in the Philippines. As I revealed here last month, Wyeth has tried to get the UNICEF representative in the Philippines removed as 'not competent' after he has spoken strongly in favour of the regulations. This is its modus operandi. I remember at the trial in 2003 when Wyeth was convicted of a 'cynical and deliberate breach' of the ban on infant formula advertising, the Managing Director was described in the Judge's ruling as 'extraordinarily evasive'. I attended much of the trial and remember the Judge asking the Managing Director to comment on the fact that the principal colour on an SMA Gold formula label was yellow, just as on the advertisement (which didn't mention SMA Gold by name, but gave many pointers to it). The Managing Director, as I recall, suggested then it was coincidence and even tried to argue the shades of yellow were subtly different. This is the what we are up against.
We will pursue the case against Wyeth as far as we can. All profits from merchandise, materials and membership help to fund our work, here and internationally.
It is great to see from the discussion boards that many people are also registering complaints with the authorities. If you are concerned, please do so. See the 'monitoring' section of: