Thursday

Media coverage of rulings against misleading formula advertising

There has been good coverage of our victory over the misinformation that Danone/Milupa perpetrates with its Aptamil advertising. The Advertising Standards Authority ruling against a 2007 advertisement was published yesterday. You can find links to some of the media coverage at:

In general the coverage has been good, explaining the ruling against misleading claims made about Aptamil supporting the immune system (and Cow & Gate in another ruling following complaints from the National Childbirth Trust). The rejection of the claim that Aptamil is the 'best follow-on formula' also receives prominent coverage.

Some in the media were still moved to present it as a breastfeeding/bottle feeding issue though. For example, the BBC site states: "But some pro-breast feeding groups believe there should be a total ban on this kind of advertising."

Well, we may be a pro-breast feeding group, but we are also pro the right of those who use formula to accurate information. The garbage put out in formula advertisements by Danone and its competitors does not help mothers make an informed decision.

The media likes controversy, however. Last week several papers picked up on a story challenging the benefits of breastfeeding over formula feeding, some of them quite gleefully, though the story itself had no merit: the difference is short and long-term health is well supported by the evidence. Some theorised that these stories appeared at this time because World Breastfeeding Week starts next week. Knowing the ASA ruling was about to be published - as the industry also did - I wondered if that was the reason the story was being put out at this time; indeed, at least one report on the ASA ruling included a paragraph about the 'controversy' over whether breastfeeding really has the health benefits claimed for it.

I have no reason to doubt that these particular journalists were doing no more than stirring up controversy to provoke a reaction. Some so-called journalists, however, have links to the industry. One is Brendan O'Neill, whose Spiked website has provided services to INFORM, a front organisation for the formula industry. He has misrepresented things I have said more than once to make an unwarranted attack on 'lactavists' (I am still annoyed at Brendan because though he made a correction the first time he did this, he has still not responded to an even more blatant case of misrepresentation published on The Guardian site). See:

It serves the industry to portray our work as denying information to mothers, when the opposite is the case: we want mothers to have accurate information and actively campaign for the government to provide this through the NHS. The companies cannot be trusted to be objective, as these ASA rulings show. While it is the nature of advertising to exaggerate, formula is a nutritional medicine, not chocolate bars or yoghurts. Higher standards for marketing should apply - and, indeed, they were introduced by the World Health Assembly in 1981, but still not implemented by the UK Government.

The NCT, which brought the complaints against the Cow & Gate misleading claims, is also labelled as pro-breastfeeding. It is, but it is also pro supporting mothers who use formula. You can find an NCT information sheet on its website at:

So let's stop the breastfeeding/bottle feeding divide. The industry and their voice pieces and controversy-seeking media may wish to create division, but anyone who cares about infant health should surely support an end to company advertising of formula in favour of independent, objective information through the health care system and better labelling and composition.

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