Tuesday

Wyeth SMA soya formula promotion shows need for independent information

We're starting to get reports of advertisements in Wyeth's £3 million promotion for its SMA brand of formulas in the UK. Look out for analysis here shortly. Today I am looking at how it fails to give parents the information they need about soya formula and invite you to sign up to receive information on our campaign to make formula feeding safer.

As I commented recently, calling for strengthened regulations on formula companies and for existing regulations to be enforced is not anti-formula or an attack on mothers who use formula. It is the opposite. It is protecting a mother's right to accurate information so she can make an informed decision on how to feed her child and, if using formula, knows how to reduce the risks. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/08/best-infant-formula.html

In that blog I said I would return to the subject of soya and goats' milk formula.

I thought I would see what Wyeth has to say about its SMA Wysoy formula.

Companies should not be advertising infant formula under the provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and the UK law. Under the Code, companies should not seek direct or indirect contact with mothers. They are limited to providing scientific and factual information to health workers who have responsibility for advising parents.

But Wyeth does promote formula on its website with impunity, at least so far. The Advertising Standards Authority refuses to even investigate claims on websites, even when companies direct parents to the site in their print and television advertisements. Trading Standards has not brought a single prosecution for illegal promotion on the internet.

So while companies are getting away with it, let's see what they are saying. This is what Wyeth says on its website about Wysoy. I'll quote it to analyse it:

---quote from Wyeth's SMA website
SMA Wysoy is a nutritionally-complete infant formula based on soya protein rather than cows’ milk protein, which makes it suitable for babies with cows' milk intolerance.

Cows’ milk intolerance is when the digestive system finds it difficult to cope with one or more of the ingredients in cows' milk and can result in a variety of symptoms, including eczema, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. If you suspect your baby has cows’ milk intolerance, talk to your GP or other healthcare professional, who might be able to prescribe a cows’ milk free formula, such as SMA Wysoy.

Did you know?

SMA Wysoy is approved by the Vegetarian Society and is often used by parents who wish their baby to have soya-based infant formula for religious or cultural reasons.

“When should I use SMA Wysoy?”

SMA Wysoy can be used from birth onwards and can also be used as part of an older baby or toddler’s varied weaning diet. However, it should only be used if your baby has a cows’ milk intolerance or if you have other reasons for wanting your baby to have a soya-based infant milk.

Always consult your doctor or healthcare professional before making any changes to your choice of baby’s milk.

Dad bottle feeding baby

“What are the benefits of using SMA Wysoy?”

If your baby has cows' milk intolerance, you should completely remove cows' milk and any products containing cows' milk from her diet. SMA Wysoy, with its soya protein base, is a useful alternative to cows’ milk.
---quote ends

So there is the repeated advice to contact a health workers before changing the formula a baby is fed, which is good. But also the suggestion to use Wysoy "if you have other reasons for wanting your baby to have a soya-based infant milk".

Plus the image showing a man feeding the child is surely not there by accident, but is to highlight that formula feeding facilitates this.

There is small print on the Wyeth website page saying "Breast is best" and giving, in basic terms, some of the legally required information. But there is much information missing that we think parents should have brought to their attention.

The Food Standards Agency does provide independent information for parents on cows' milk intolerance. See:
http://www.eatwell.gov.uk/asksam/agesandstages/childrenandbabies/#A219760

Here is an extract:

---extract begins
You should only give your baby soya-based infant formula if your GP or health visitor advises you to. In almost all cases, breastfeeding or another type of formula will be a better choice.

Soya-based infant formula was originally developed for babies who can't have infant formula based on cows' milk, for example, because of a milk allergy. But there are now other types of formula that are more suitable for these babies and your GP or health visitor will be able to advise you about this.

Occasionally your GP or health visitor might recommend soya-based infant formula, for example, if your baby can't or won't drink other types of formula, or if you want your baby to eat a vegan diet and you're not breastfeeding.

If you're giving your baby soya-based infant formula at the moment, talk to your GP or health visitor about changing to a different formula.
---extract ends

Of course, we should not be surprised that the Wyeth website does not state that this product will rarely be recommended. It is a commercial enterprise, so why draw attention to the fact? Instead Wyeth's approach is to encourage people to speak to a health worker: "who might be able to prescribe... Wysoy."

This is exactly why companies should not be the source of information for parents.

As the Food Standards Agency article goes on to explain, there are some concerns about possible negative health impact of soya formulas. Soya contains phytoestrogens. These are compounds found naturally in some plants, which may mimic or block the action of the human hormone, oestrogen. Tests in animals have shown an impact on development, but the impact on humans is still unclear. Yet there is a need for caution when we are talking about the sole food for a baby in its most important months of development.

We should not underestimate the importance of regulations. Marketing in the United States is unregulated and a voluntary code that did exist collapsed when Nestlé entered the market. The American Academy of Pediatrics states: "Healthy full-term infants should be given soy formula only when medically necessary." Yet it is estimated that 20% of formula sold in the US is soya formula. See:
http://www.fda.gov/Fdac/features/596_baby.html

This article from the Food Standards Agency gives additional information about cows' milk allergy and milk intolerance. See:
http://www.eatwell.gov.uk/healthissues/foodintolerance/foodintolerancetypes/milkallergy/

Soya formula is not recommended for cows' milk allergy. It states: "Another type of infant formula is soya-based infant formula. But only use soya-based infant formula on the advice of your GP or health visitor. Babies who are allergic to cows' milk may also be allergic to soya. In almost all cases, breastfeeding or another type of formula will be a better choice."

Even when soya formula is recommended, there can be unexpected risks. Last year Farley's had to recall a batch of soya formula because it was contaminated with milk. See:
http://www.food.gov.uk/enforcement/alerts/2006/mar/farleyssoya

Wysoy has been recalled after being found to contain small pieces of stainless steel. See:
http://www.food.gov.uk/enforcement/alerts/2004/apr/smawysoyfhw

Goats' milk formula is not recommended either as it contains similar protein to that causing cows' milk allergy. In addition, goats' milk formula cannot legally be sold in the UK as insufficient testing has been done on it - find out more on the Department of Health website.

Babies with an allergy to cows' milk may sometimes have a reaction to the protein passing into a mother's breastmilk, but she can adjust her diet if this is an issue.

If you are concerned about any of these issues, speak to your health worker or contact one of the mother support groups listed on the Baby Milk Action website.

They are far better sources of information than companies with a vested interest in selling you their products. We want them to be better still, which is why we support the Breastfeeding Manifesto, which calls for better training for health workers.

Action is long overdue. Recall what Wyeth says on its website: "Cows’ milk intolerance is when the digestive system finds it difficult to cope with one or more of the ingredients in cows' milk and can result in a variety of symptoms, including eczema, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. If you suspect your baby has cows’ milk intolerance, talk to your GP or other healthcare professional, who might be able to prescribe a cows’ milk free formula, such as SMA Wysoy."

Contrast that with this from the British Medical Journal over ten years ago: "Indiscriminate swapping between formulas, often on the advice of health professionals, should be avoided, as should spurious recommendations to use a soy based formula for vague symptoms and signs. These include normal crying-fussing behaviour of young infants, colic, and rashes, any of which may be ascribed to cow's milk protein intolerance. Casual treatment in this manner is undesirable because it leads to overdiagnosis of food allergy, with possible long term effects on children's dietary habits."

Hence our call for independent, accurate information.

You can sign up for information specifically on Baby milk Action's work to make formula feeding safer at:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/action/saferformula.html

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