A new television advertisement for Aptamil formula (now owned by Danone) appeared on UK television last night. Look how it links the formula to breastmilk. This is the voiceover:
Breastmilk is perfect for your baby.
Nothing compares to it. It strengthens your baby's natural defences and reduces the risk of infection.
How time flies by.
If you decide to move on from breastfeeding, Aptamil follow-on contains IMMUNOFORTIS to help support some of your baby's natural defences.
Aptamil follow-on. Helping support your baby.
The key is in the 'natural defences' tag. Breastfeeding - natural defences. Aptamil - natural defences. Clever, no? Some people earn a lot of money thinking this stuff up.
Advertising of all breastmilk substitues, which includes follow-on milks, is prohibited by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. At the beginning of the year Danone promised a 'root and branch review' of the marketing activities of NUMICO, owner of the Aptamil brand, following its takeover. As this campaign has just been launched, the indications are Danone is either very slow at getting the word out to the marketers or it has zero respect for the Code.
The Code aims to protect the right of mothers to accurate and independent information on infant feeding. The government and the World Health Organisation recommend breastfeeding beyond 6 months, so this message is undermined by the advertisement, which makes no mention of this recommendation.
I argue the advertisement is illegal as the UK law states: "Follow-on formula advertising shall be: (a) be designed to provide the necessary information about the appropriate use of the product so as not to discourage breast feeding."
The Guidance Notes that accompany the law state: "To minimise the risk of consumers making a connnection between follow-on formula and the act of feeding infants from birth, information in advertisements for follow-on formula should not include pictures or text which relate or compare follow-on formula to breastmilk."
The advertisement clearly does do this. The Guidance Notes are due to be signed off any day now having been put out to consultation some months ago. It seems Danone is rushing out the advertisement before this happens.
The term IMMUNOFORTIS, a made-up word suggesting strengthening of the immune system, is idealizing in itself and so prohibited by the Code. Immunofortis is a so-called prebiotic (again a non-permitted term). While the advertisement claims these support natural defences, an independent review by the Cochrane Library found the evidence was lacking. See: "There is insufficient evidence to recommend the addition of prebiotics to infant feeds for prevention of allergic disease or food reactions" at:
The website promoted in the advert advertises the full range of formulas, something the authorities appear reluctant to act upon despite the advertising of infant formula being illegal in the UK.
The term IMMUNOFORTIS is also used on the infant formula packaging which is almost identical to the follow-on formula packaging shown in the advertisement. Packaging follow-on formula and infant formula to make them cross promotional is illegal under the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations introduced at the end of 2007. However, the industry successfully took the government to court to delay having to comply with the labeling provisions for two years.
In court the industry argued it needed more time to change labels, despite knowing a year in advance that they needed to do so and despite the fact that their labels break the previous 1995 Regulations. We now know the Aptamil team was probably too busy to re-design its labels as it was working on this Aptamil advertising campaign.
The government has promised to review how the law and Guidance Notes work. You can send a message in support of a broad review by clicking here: