Friday, December 22, 2006
Things don't stop because of the Christmas holiday, not least because in much of the world Christmas isn't a national holiday! So there may well be additions to the site. There is a 'latest news' section and a quick link to it on the left of the site. The date of the latest addition is also given. You can also sign up to receive email alerts (see the 'contact' section) and join the Nestlé boycott discussion group (see the 'boycott' section).
Thanks to everyone who has visited the blog, sent links to friends or linked to it. Thanks for the comments, messages of supports and the news snippets that you may have sent. They are all very much appreciated.
It has been fun doing the blog, which I began 3 months ago today. We're nearly up to 3,000 views on the blogger version and over 3,000 on the Myspace version. I hope you find it interesting and useful. It has provided a useful place for me to provide quick updates and ideas, which are not always appropriate for the main website. It has led to some media coverage, most notably the front page story in the Philippines with your messages of support for the Ministry of Health's regulations for baby foods, which are still under attack.
If I had to choose my personal favourite blog entry (which could be a game to play in the next two weeks if you want to leave a comment) I think it would be 'Nestlé Chief Executive should relax more' at
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2006/11/nestl-chief-executive-should-relax.html, though I do still laugh at the pie eating competition (because of the article quoted) at
Retaining a sense of humour is essential when campaigning on the baby milk issue, otherwise it would be too easy to despair at the scale of the task and the inhumanity of those who put profits before health. So thanks to everyone in the Baby Milk Action office: staff (Patti and Alison - now moving on to other things after 8 years of dedicated service - and now Sarah), volunteers (particularly Lisa, who sends out your product orders and information request and Elaine, another long-term supporter) and our advisors and directors. Thanks too to area contacts around the country for all they do to spread the word, other supporters and boycotters and all of you who write letters and gather petition signatures.
A particular thank you in this year of the campaign on the European Union and UK baby food marketing regulations to everyone who has reported violations through our UK campaign website at
http://www.babyfeedinglawgroup.org.uk/ The campaign continues and this data is invaluable.
And of course a thank you to our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). Baby Milk Action does what it can to support the campaigns of our partners around the world and to carry their messages to people in the UK and more widely. If we need a sense of humour, then what of those who see infants dying from unsafe bottle feeding in their hospitals and in their neighbourhoods? Where, in the Philippines at the moment, companies take the government to court and call on friends in the US to threaten the President with a cut in investment in the country. it can be scary work, whether or not the assassination in the Philippines' government lawyer this month was anything to with the baby food case as the Solicitor General suggested may be the case.
So two images to close the year. One of Miguel and Gloria at the Supreme Court in the Philippines, victims of the aggressive marketing of baby foods. The other, the gathering of 1,000 women with umbrellas in a park in Manila to make a colourful spectacle to draw attention to the need to protect infant health.
Needless suffering resulting from corporate greed on the one hand. Imagination, courage, good humour and hope on the other. That is what will keep us going into 2007.
A happy new year to you all.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Advertising campaigns, sponsorship of health workers, direct targeting of mothers, idealizing claims on labels and the host of strategies they use do not come about by accident. They are carefully planned, going to the limit and often beyond of national legislation, pretty much ignoring any voluntary agreements that may have been signed and showing little respect for the measures adopted by the World Health Assembly.
Baby food companies, like tobacco companies, try to argue that their promotion does not encourage people to use their products, but provides information to those that want it and is aimed at taking customers from rival brands.
Trouble is, one of the rival brands is mothers’ breastmilk and it is not promoted to anything the same degree. And any promotion that does take place for breastfeeding is factual, unlike much of the stuff churned out by the baby food companies.
Now we have some information from one company, NUMICO, maker of Nutricia, Milupa and Cow & Gate brands. Hence the name. NUMICO is very aggressive in the UK. Using techniques such as promotional posters in leisure centres, product promoters in supermarkets, advertising on television and in parenting and fashion magazines, inducements to health workers and heavily promoted carelines for parents to call for information on infant care (if you need to call someone, call a mother support group – you can find contact numbers here).
So it comes as no surprise to read that NUMICO reports “Strong growth in Western Europe (3.8%) driven by the UK and Ireland”. Here is how it does it. See http://www.babyfeedinglawgroup.org.uk/monitoring/monreportcompanies.html
Now NUMICO will claim its promotion is limited to follow-on milks and its carelines, not the infant formula. Promotion of follow-on milks is legal in the UK, although against the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Carelines are in a bit of a grey area legally, but are clearly prohibited by the Code which says companies must not seek direct or indirect contact with pregnant women and mothers of infants and young children. As well as advertising to them and collaring them in supermarkets, Cow & Gate puts leaflets into clinics.
Companies have changed labels so the infant formula and follow-on formula are virtually indistinguishable. You need to know the colour code they use or look closely at which number is highlighted on the packshot, which is not always easy in an advertisement. I’m intrigued as to why companies that boast of sales growth are so reticent at giving any breakdown. If NUMICO advertising really only creates strong growth for follow-on milks then surely infant formula sales should be falling as the government has targets of increasing breastfeeding rates – though all the breastfeeding promotions achieves a budge. But we don’t hear NUMICO saying infant formula sales are falling. I suspect the whole lot rise together.
Remember, in an National Childbirth Trust/UNICEF UK survey last year, 60% of mothers said they had seen infant formula advertised – most likely confusing a follow-on formula advertisement with the similarly named and packaged infant formula. See
We’ve exposed on our website and publications how companies are going into Eastern Europe aggressively. NUMICO reports ‘accelerated growth (30.4%). Especially Poland, Russian and Turkey.’ And in the developing world: ‘Exceptional performance in Indonesia…’
But NUMICO is not sitting back. It’s ‘Growth Opportunities in 2006’ have been:
“Introduce new generation of immunity strengthening infant milks, worldwide” –
Which is, of course, a contradiction in terms as inert formulas do not provide the immune protection of breastfeeding.
“Drive rapid growth in high potential markets like China”
That’s using prohibited promotions, such as giving out a free CD when mothers buy infant formula, as the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) exposed in December 2004 – see http://www.babymilkaction.org/CEM/compdec04.html
The culture is already beginning to change in China and breastfeeding rates are falling. This is not an inevitable aspect of industrialisation, as some industrialised countries have high breastfeeding rates.
and “Focus on growing both sales and margins in our new Mellin and Dumex businesses”.
So while NUMICO counts its profits and growth, we and our partners try to keep track of what goes on the ground and its impact, while working for legislation to give the protection the World Health Assembly calls for. We know in those countries with independently monitored and enforced regulations violations are stopped to the benefit of infant health.
The sad thing is that NUMICO sees its strategy of violating the marketing requirements working in some countries and driving growth. And as it grows it also gains more money to do more promotion and to counter small campaigning groups such as ours.
On the other hand, the more success we have, the harder it seems to be to generate funds. Over 70 countries have legislation now, so perhaps donors think they can target their money on other issues (just what one long-term funder has said to us).
No matter how much work there is left to be done in countries where there is no baby food marketing legislation, it is ineffective or it is under attack (as in the Philippines, the subject of yesterday’s blog, where Miguel, a bottle baby victim of aggressive marketing went to the Supreme Court).
Every victory has to be protected.
New aggressive marketing drives such as those NUMICO is embarking on need to be monitored and exposed when they break the rules.
For the companies every mother persuaded not to breastfeed is money in the bank, regardless of the impact on health.
Interesting to think that we would go from strength to strength if every life saved by IBFAN’s work brought in a pound.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
They filed a submission in support of the Ministry of Health regulations on the marketing of baby foods. In case you have not been following this situation, the regulations are under attack from the baby food industry and US Chamber of Commerce. Baby Milk Action's campaign of solidarity has been helping to put this in the spotlight, generating headlines in the Philippines and coverage elsewhere.
That same day the government lawyer defending the case was assassinated, which the Solicitor General of the Philippines said may be linked to it. However, the lawyer, Assistant Solicitor General Nestor J. Ballocillo, was involved in challenging other powerful vested interests, so no conclusions have yet been made. See
Representatives of the coalition in the Philippines went to the Supreme Court to file papers, accompanied by a 9 month old child they describe as a 'victim of bottle feeding'. Here are Miguel and mother Gloria. Miguel began on Nestlé Nestogen (the formula Nestlé promotes as having 'Brain Building Blocks') and was moved onto other formulas, a common occurence when children start to become sick and mothers think it must be the particular brand disagreeing with them. Reassured by the claims made on packs and labels, they do not realise that the formula is not only without the protection against infection provided by breastmilk, but may itself be contaminated with pathogens such as Enterobacter Sakazakii. Nestlé is currently opposing a World Health Assembly Resolution calling for warnings on labels.
While Miguel has suffered from the risks associated with artificial feeding, other children have died. According to the World Health Organisation, 16,000 infants die in the Philippines every year through inappropriate feeding.
The Philippines regulations are intended to stop aggressive promotion which encourages mothers and health workers to favour artificial feeding over bottle feeding. I have posted with the pictures an advertisement from Wyeth (known in the UK as SMA) for its Progress formula. This advertising was to be illegal under the regulations until the legal action by Wyeth and friends caused the regulations to be suspended. While Nestlé is making much of not being part of the legal action, it has also opposed the prohibition on promotion of products such as this, a follow-on milk for babies from one year. Take a look at Wyeth's advertisement on our website and you can see how it misleads mothers.
The suggestion is parents who 'want only the best' for their children give Wyeth (SMA) Progress formula so they become 'Advanced Achievers'.
You can send a message of support to the Philippines via
If you have not done so yet, please do so. For Miguel, Gloria and all the other children and mothers in the Philippines.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Firstly, our leafleting at the Nestlé Book Prize was picked up by an international news agency and sent out in English, French and Arabic.
You can read it here:
There's a picture of our team of leafleters. There on the left is Sarah, our new Office Manager, next to Patti, Policy Director.
Second bit of news was a report on the US Food and Drug Administration finding Nestlé infant formula in the US had lower than permitted minimum levels of Phosphorous and Calcium. Included a reference to the boycott with: "The group is already one of the most boycotted food firms in the world because of allegations that it unfairly pushed its infant formula onto women in the developing world, discouraging them to breast feed." See:
You can see the FDA warning letter on-line. It shows Calcium levels are about 10% down on what Nestlé shows on the labels, Phosphorous about 20%. See
A third article of note was in the UK Daily Telegraph. It concerns HIV and the risks of transmission through breastfeeding. The headline is "HIV positive and forced by poverty to breastfeed." It says things like: "Ajabu is HIV positive but has deliberately not been told that breastfeeding is highly infectious and that, in effect, she risks passing on a death sentence every time she raises her children to her breast." See:
The World Health Assembly position, as I have explained in a past blog entry, is : "when replacement feeding is acceptable, feasible, affordable, sustainable and safe, avoidance of all breastfeeding by HIV-positive women is recommended; otherwise, exclusive breastfeeding is recommended during the first months of life; and that those who choose other options should be encouraged to use them free from commercial influences."
This sensationalist 'death sentence' journalism is not only at odds with the reality, it is potentially very damaging to health if taken seriously. The fact is that the vast majority of infants born to HIV infected mothers do not get infected. While no-one should minimise the impact on the 15% of infants who are infected through breastfeeding, it needs to be put in context of the risk assessment recommended by the World Health Assembly. As UNICEF has pointed out, in the first 20 years of the HIV pandemic, perhaps 1.7 million infants have been infected with HIV through breastfeeding, but 30 million have died as a result of not being breastfed.
More recently evidence is emerging of the impact of promoting formula as the solution to mother-to-child transmission. Remember Nestlé set up a Nutrition Institute for southern Africa in 2001 with just that stated purpose. Botswana is one country where Nestlé provides formula to a government scheme. We have exposed the idealising leaflets that go with the Pelargon formula in the past. They suggest the formula helps to prevent diarrhoea, whereas formula-fed infants are more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea than breastfed infants. See
A study in Botswana evaluating different approaches to infant feeding by HIV-infected mothers evaluated child survival, not just HIV transmission. It concludes:
Breastfeeding with zidovudine prophylaxis was not as effective as formula feeding in preventing postnatal HIV transmission, but was associated with a lower mortality rate at 7 months. Both strategies had comparable HIV-free survival at 18 months. These results demonstrate the risk of formula feeding to infants in sub-Saharan Africa, and the need for studies of alternative strategies.
In other words, because infants die from the risks of artificial feeding, the strategies about balance out over 18 months from the point of view of child survival. Prior to this: "Cumulative infant mortality at 7 months was significantly higher for the formula-fed group than for the breastfed plus zidovudine group." To use the wording of the Telegraph journalist, putting a bottle in a babies mouth was more likely to be a death sentence during this period.
At 18 months the mortality rate amongst the formula-fed group was 10.7% and 8.7% in the breastfed group. HIV infection was 6% in the formula-fed group (infants being infected in utero or during birth) and 9.5% in the breastfed group.
You can find the paper on PubMed
There was a flaw with the study however. The breastfed group were not exclusively breastfed, there was also mixed feeding. Other studies suggest that mixed feeding is the most dangerous scenario and so this would have made breastfeeding look worse than if exclusively-breastfed infants alone had been considered (Coutsoudis A. Influence of infant feeding patterns on early mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1 in Durban, South Africa. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 918: 136-144, 2000). So if the message about exclusive breastfeeding was effectively spread in conditions where artificial feeding is life threatening we should see less HIV-transmission and far better survival rates.
If you want greater insight into the complexities of this issue, an understanding of why the World Health Assembly policy is as it is and why sensationalist and ill-informed articles like that in the Telegraph are so unhelpful to child health you need to look behond the catchy headlines. For example, see the Spring/Summer 2006 newsletter from INFACT Canada. This reports on the Botswana study and a recent HIV conference. Click here to download the pdf
Monday, December 18, 2006
Violations of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements are so commonplace that we have taken to only reporting on our monitoring website those that are also illegal.
Of course supermarkets should be abiding by all the provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. They are distributors of breastmilk substitutes and Article 11.3 couldn't be clearer. It says:
Independently of any other measures taken for implementation of this Code, manufacturers and distributors of products within the scope of this Code should regard themselves as responsible for monitoring their marketing practices according to the principles and aim of this Code, and for taking steps to ensure that their conduct at every level conforms to them.
So there you go. That means there should be no promotion of any breastmilk substitutes, which includes follow-on milks.
Follow-on milks routinely have extra reward points in promotional schemes, discounts and buy 1 get 1 free type offers.
But similar promotions repeatedly occur on infant formula, which is illegal. Against the law. It's in black and white in the Infant Formula and Follow-on Fomrula Regulations (1995). Yes, they've had over 10 years to get their act together.
You can see examples of the illegal activity on the Baby Feeding Law Group website at
We ran a campaign last year asking supporters to send letters to the supermarkets asking them to stop breaking the law and to also respect the World Health Assembly marketing requirements.
The responses show two things. Firstly, they do not respect the regulations. Secondly, some of them have little clue what the regulations require.
You can read full responses here:
This is what ASDA's Trading Standards Manager in the Corporate Responsibility Department had to say:
I've never heard of the Code referred to. It has no legal standing. The Regulations (Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995) prohibit promotion of first milk. They do not prohibit promotion of follow on milk.
So at least following our campaign the ASDA Corporate Responsibility Department had at least heard of the Code, even if they decided to ignore it. But they gave no answer on the illegal promotion of infant formula, which continued, with 'roll back' promotions on the first milk (see pictures from this year on the BFLG site).
Boots response included:
Boots takes its responsibilities under UK and European legislation seriously. It complies with the requirements of the Follow-on Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations and endeavours at all times to ensure that the marketing of infant formula is in accordance with that law and that of the World Health Authority Code.
Not sure what the World Health Authority is, but I do know that Boots' repeated extra points offers on follow-on milks break the International Code. Boots, however, claims: "Follow-on milks are not breast milk substitutes and as such do not fall within the requirements of those Codes."
So what about the illegal infant formula promotion? No answer. This is the type of thing we are talking about:
Shouldn't be happening. It's against the law. Articles 19 (b) and (d) should just about do it:
19 No person shall at any place where any infant formula is sold by retail—
(b) make any special display of an infant formula designed to promote sales;
(d) promote the sale of an infant formula by means of premiums, special sales, loss- leaders or tie-in sales;
Why wasn't Boots taken to court over this? A good question.
Sainsbury's we actually credited with changing their system to make it stop churning out promotions on infant formula. This happened after Cambridge Trading Standards acted on a case I reported and Sainsbury's head office acknowledged that the automated stock control system that produced the shelf-talker tickets dropping the price did not have a block on infant formula promotions. They promised to adjust the software and since that time our monitoring network finds only manager special clearance offers on infant formula and promotions on follow-on milks.
So letter writers thanked Sainsbury's for taking that action and asked for further information as well as asking for it to abide by the Code and Resolutions. This was totally ignored in the response. Instead Sainsbury's just said:
I have checked with the appropriate department and have been advised that we are allowed to promote all baby milk except the First and Second Milk formulas.
So no effort to answer the question being asked, nor apparently anything to say about the Code and Resolutions at Sainsbury's.
Tesco, however, wins the prize for incompetence. In one email response to a supporter Tesco Customer Services wrote:
I have received a response from our research team with regards to your mail. For further information please can I forward you to: http://www.ibfan.org/english/pdfs/lwtduk04.pdf
The law does not allow first infant milk to be promoted.
The publication is our own UK monitoring report exposing illegal promotion in supermarkets and, yes, stressing that infant formula promotion is illegal! If we are an acknowledge authority by Tesco, why does it not do something about the violations we expose?
Another email showed the confusion within Tesco Consumer Services even more graphically.
Firstly: "Promotion on first and second Baby Milks is illegal as we support the government 'breast-is-best' policy."
No, Tesco, it is illegal because it is against the law. It has nothing to do with whether you decide to support government policy or not.
Secondly: "However promoting follow on milk is not illegal so this can be promoted and demonstrate [sic] in store."
No, Tesco, not if you fulfil your obligations under Article 11.3 of the Code.
Thirdly: "If the supplier is also drawing attention to the first and second milk products they should be re-iterating government guidelines that they don't recommend a diet of soley Baby Milk formula to a Baby less than 6 months old."
Read that again slowly.
Tesco reckons that breastmilk substitutes other than infant formula can promoted and demonstrated in store.
They reckon that the people doing the promotion can also draw attention to the infant formula - which is clearly illegal promotion.
19. No person shall at any place where any infant formula is sold by retail—
(a) advertise any infant formula;
(e) undertake any other promotional activity to induce the sale of an infant formula.
They reckon the only requirement is that product promoters say something:"Don't just use infant formula on its own. Perhaps try a bit of breastfeeding as well."
Hardly in line with the government recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding, is it?
Hence the title to this blog entry.
Quite restrained under the circumstances, don't you think?
Friday, December 15, 2006
Yesterday it was announced that Nestlé was buying Novartis Medical Nutrition for the sum of US$ 2.5 billion. That will be a fun cheque to write - and receive. It does need approval by regulatory authorities, who will want to investigate if it gives Nestlé too large a share of the market.
According to Nestlé Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé: "This is a very important step for the Nestlé Group in its strategic transformation process to a nutrition, health and wellness company as it strengthens the core of our globally managed Nestlé Nutrition business."
I've written in the past about how Mr. Brabeck is trying to change Nestlé's image from junk food and confectionary company to something more wholesome. Financial analysts say Nestlé profits and share price is vulnerable if there is regulation to counter the global epidemic of obesity, part of the reason why Nestlé pushes for voluntary agreements rather than regulation. And the reason why Mr. Brabeck is trying to rebrand Nestlé as a nutrition, health and wellness company.
Well, it would be good to see Nestlé more concerned about nutrition, health and wellness, but in its business plan this means ever more technical and processed approaches to nutrition, with functional foods oversold with claims about their health benefits. We see it with the baby foods - such as the formula labels in the Philippines highlighted in our current campaign where Nestlé boasts they contain 'Brain Building Blocks'.
A transnational such as Nestlé has strategic business plans stretching for decades. Its marketing of breastmilk substitutes can take that long to undermine breastfeeding cultures (take a look at the case studies on 7 countries produced by IBFAN which record the history of the growth of artificial feeding, in most cases with Nestlé being a leading driver of cultural change).
And so its approach is not for greater understanding of nutrition for improved diets, but for improved sales. What we may need to do for better health is eat more fruit and vegetables, grown locally without chemicals. But that information would not serve Nestlé's purposes. So it tries to lead the policy direction. Three years ago it initiated an annual symposium on food and health at the Nestlé Research Centre. And last month it announced funding for a Swiss Institute on the relationship between nutrition and the brain. It will fund two chairs at the Institute. This is the company that promotes its 'brain building block' formula with claims that the Cochrane Library finds are not substantiated by research (see past blogs).
The partnership with the Institute will be for research that will: "extend from studying the role nutrition plays in children's brain development to identifying ways of slowing down brain decline in older age and preventing diseases such as Alzheimer's."
Nestlé is already claiming "a good diet has more potential than previously recognised to improve brain function." Expect more products with 'brain building blocks'. And if previous research doesn't recognise any benefit, as with the addition of Long Chain Polyunsaturated fatty acids to formula, perhaps Nestlé will be able to come up with some new research that does find benefits, perhaps endorsed by the Institute and chairs it is funding.
Nestlé would of course claim that it is only concerned with the science, not the marketing claims it may or may not legitimise. The unfortunate thing is that when the science is troublesome for Nestlé it decides it must be wrong. We see this in the news today with Nestlé rubbishing findings by the US Food and Drug Administration (the FDA). The FDA found samples of Nestlé Good Start infant formula in the US did not meet composition requirements. Specifically the FDA wrote to Nestlé on 27 November saying the formula did not meet the requirements for minimum levels of calcium and phosphorous. Calcium is, of course, the 'bone builder' ingredient, Nestlé likes to flag up on labels such as those in the Philippines. But not so much bone building will be going on if the calcium levels are below the minimum requirement.
This is devastating news for Nestlé. Its response? To say the FDA is wrong and its own analysis found no problems. See http://business.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,13129-2505991,00.html
An all too familiar story. Last year the Chinese authorities found too high levels of iodine in Nestlé baby milks and called for them to be withdrawn. Nestlé at first refused. Also last year Italian authorities seized formula contaminated with a chemical from the ink from the labels of tetrapak packaging. Mr. Brabeck claimed Nestlé had been given permission to continue selling the formula. The Italian health ministry was reportedly 'dismayed' by Mr. Brabeck's 'completely false' statement. Threatened with being sued, Mr. Brabeck put his claim down to a 'memory lapse'. See http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press22nov05.html
So when science that does not suit its purposes is disputed, what confidence can we have in science funded by Nestlé and endorsed by people it pays? How seriously can we take its attempt to rebrand itself as a 'nutrition, health and wellness' company? Questions to ponder.
The point I was intending to make in this entry was that Gerber was not included in this sale. As The Times states: "some observers had expected that Gerber would be included in the same deal." It was not. Neither side is prepared to comment on whether discussions are on-going.
Given that Gerber has given an undertaking to bring its marketing into line with World Health Assembly marketing requirements (though there are still no signs of changes), we hope it remains outside Nestlé's hands or the chance that it will genuinely change will surely be lost.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
However, according to the Philippines Daily Inquirer today:
Solicitor General Antonio Eduardo Nachura said that the killing of Ballocillo—as well as his son Benedict—may have something to do with the expropriation of the controversial Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminal 3 (Naia 3) and the Milk Code case that the elder Ballocillo was handling.... In linking the Milk Code case to his death, Nachura described Ballocillo as an advocate of 'breastfeeding.' 'Nestor came out very strongly in these cases since he is an advocate of breastfeeding.'
You can read the full article at http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press14dec06.html
As well as these cases the lawyer: "also helped in the recovery of hundreds of millions of dollars in the Marcos ill-gotten wealth cases."
If the murders are linked to a case he was or had been involved in it could have been any of these. What is striking is that the Solicitor General believes the Milk Code case could have been the reason for his killing. This says a great deal about the politicisation of infant feeding in the Philippines and the insecurity activists must feel in campaigning. No wonder they have asked for international help.
The Philippines is a dangerous country to be a campaigner. I frequently receive information about trade unionists being killed in the Philippines. You may recall in September I interviewed Luz Baculo, General Secretary of the PAMANTIK trade union about the first anniversary of the assassination of Diosdado Fortuna. He was killed shortly after leaving the picket line at a Nestlé factory. The union has been in dispute with Nestlé over its refusal to abide by a Supreme Court ruling to negotiate on pension rights. Luz was unable to give a landline number for the interview and was fearful of returning to the trade union offices. You can hear the interview at
Nestlé is not involved in the court case in the Philippines. Its opposition to the new regulations is more subtle. It claims publicly to support the measures, while being opposed to key provisions, such as the ban on promotion of products for use by children up to two years of age.
The baby food industry is a multi-billion pound enterprise. In the Philippines it is big business. While we can hope there is no connection with this terrible double murder, there remains the stark statistic issued by the World Health Organisation in the Philippines: 16,000 children die every year because of inappropriate feeding. Knowing full well the impact of unsafe feeding, the companies continue to push their products to increase sales and their profits.
The toll of unnecessary deaths tells us the state of morality of the industry. It has called in the US Chamber of Commerce to try to convince the President to interfere in the court case by threatening US investment in the country. Perhaps it should not be so surprising that the Solicitor General suggests there may be a link between the Milk Code case and the killing of the lawyer who was once his student.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Nestlé book prize a lack lustre event apparently
Imagine the situation. You have opened the cheque book to sponsor something as innocent and worthy as a prize for children's literature. It's a great scheme where the winners are chosen by children whose schools have received copies of the short-listed books.
And then on the day of the awards, despite trying to keep the time under wraps and the media away, those Baby Milk Action people turn up and tell tales on you. Hand out leaflets explaining how your company is abusing children's rights. How your aggressive marketing of baby foods is contributing to the needless death and suffering of infants around the world. How your company has failed to act on reports of child slavery on the farms which provide you with cocoa for the confectionery you want these school kids to gobble up.
A bit embarassing perhaps. At least several of the people who attended the Nestlé Children's Book Prize told us afterwards they thought the event lack lustre and the atmosphere strange as top Nestlé people mingled with participants holding information exposing company behaviour.
Quite right too. Nestlé should be haunted by the suffering it causes, don't you think?
Interesting side point is that the Nestlé community relations manager who was spokesperson for Nestlé on the book prize is better known to us as a former coordinator of the anti-boycott team based at Nestlé's Croydon HQ. This is, of course, logical as Nestlé's support of good causes is intrinsic to its attempts to undermine the boycott and improve its image. The Chief Executive himself has said that giving to charity can only be excused if it will benefit shareholders, so nobody should have illusions as to where Nestlé is coming from. That was his message to business leaders in Boston last year, as reported in the Boston Herald.
"Companies shouldn't feel obligated to 'give back' to the community, because they haven't taken anything away, the Austrian-born chief of the world's largest food company told local executives yesterday. In a stunning broadside to corporate citizenship as Bostonians have come to know it, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe - head of Nestle S.A. - said companies should only pursue charitable endeavors with an underlying intention of making money for investors."
You now need to pay for the full report on that website, so also see
Whether the Booktrust wishes to continue to add to Nestlé shareholder value remains to be seen. It took several years before the Perrier Award organisers found another sponsor. Hopefully at least those attending this year's event have greater awareness of how Nestlé is using their good name to try to improve its image and to divert attention from its malpractice. If our leafleting made people uncomfortable then I suggest it is not Baby Milk Action's fault for raising these issues, but Nestlé's for being guilty of putting its pursuit of profit above human rights and infant health.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Apparently this tragedy has been reported around the world. Partly, I believe, because the news site launched a campaign to try to find the lost family, partly because the role technology played in tracing their location. A 'ping' from a mobile phone helped to narrow the search. But another aspect was that Kati Kim breastfed her children of 7 months and four years, while having little to eat herself. She asked her parents to stress the importance of breastfeeding when they were interviewed on Larry King Live before her husband's body had been found.
ABC News reported Breast Milk Ensures Children's Survival, stating: "Experts say the episode suggests how mother's milk, in a disastrous pinch, can make the difference in whether a child survives."
This is the experience found in refugee camps. Members of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) have experience from too many tragedies of the importance in supporting mothers with breastfeeding and re-lacting if necessary, as well as providing support so the risks of breastmilk substitutes, when these are necessary, can be reduced. See IBFAN's special pages on Infant feeding in emergency situations.
But this tragedy brings IBFAN's experience to mind for another reason. A reason that made be think twice before passing this story on.
When talking with a colleague who had worked with Kosovo refugees in Albania we were looking through pictures we could use in a report on the importance of the work done in the 'Infant Feeding Corners' they had set up with UNICEF support. We always try to be careful with the images we use, not least ensuring there has been appropriate consent given. One mother in a breastfeeding class was scowling at the camera and I asked if she was upset at being photographed. 'No,' came the reply. 'She is upset because her husband has been killed and other members of her family are missing'.
In an emergency situation there is often tragedy which should not be forgotten, even as we rejoice at the lives saved through the properties of breastfeeding.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Our event last Friday, presenting messages of support at the Philippines Embassy in London, has now made this newsworthy in the UK.
The Observer ran the following piece on Sunday 10 December, for which we are very grateful. See:
Serious-minded Emma Thompson sent a statement with a delegation of activists to the Philippine embassy last Wednesday, expressing concern about baby food advertising. The Philippines, with the backing of the World Health Organisation and Unicef, recently tried to ban aggressive milk formula marketing, but has faced a backlash from American manufacturers. 'I'm appalled to hear about this attack on the Philippine Department of Health's courageous action,' says Thompson. 'Surely every government has the right to regulate the marketing of baby foods as they see fit.'
It does go to show however, that it is sad but true that a celebrity endorsement is sometimes more effective at drawing attention than a thousand mothers mounting their own demonstration in a developing country.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Well, there will be a report of our event at the Philippines Embassy in London on our website shortly.
The presentation of the card with messages of support (see yesterday´s blog) has been picked up in the Philippines, with the biggest-selling broadsheet, the Daily Inquirer, running with it on the front page.
You can read the article ´Oscar winner joins Republic of Philippines fight vs milk firms´ by clicking here:
It quotes Emma Thompson (see yesterday´s blog) who sent a message support and the Right Reverend Simon Barrington-Ward (former Bishop of Coventry) who attended the meeting at the Embassy.
From r-l: Right Rev. Simon Barrington-Ward (former Bishop of Coventry), Minister Leo Herrera-Lim, Patti Rundall OBE, Peter Greaves (retired Senior Nutritionist, UNICEF) and Embassy official. Click http://www.babymilkaction.org/pics/photographs/philippinesembassy081206.jpg for hi-resolution version for printing.
Copyright: Baby Milk Action, 2006.
May be used free of charge if copyright is given alongside and a copy of the publication sent to Baby Milk Action.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
You can find our press release at http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press8dec06.html
We have produced a large card to carry the messages to the Ambassador, hoping this will provide a photo opportunity for the media. Certainly we'll take a picture in front of the Embassy with the card.
Here's the picture on the card:
It has a picture of a mother (Iza) breastfeeding her child (sent to us by colleagues in the Philippines) overlaying some examples of aggressive promotion.
All the messages have also been rounded up in a document with endorsements from organisations from around the world. This is available on our website.
You have helped make the pressure put on the Philippines government by the baby food industry a headline issue in the Philippines. Let us see if our event tomorrow can gain wider coverage.
Here's a quote from actor Emma Thompson which may help.
"I'm appalled to hear about this attack on the Philippine Department of Health's courageous action. Surely every government has the right to regulate the marketing of baby foods as they see fit. The impact on health of aggressive marketing is well established and is something I've been personally concerned about for years. I'm sending my message of support to the people of the Philippines saying people around the world are with you and urge you to stand up to this outrageous pressure."
You'll find others on the site from celebrities and representatives of organisations, such as the Director of Oxfam GB.
Come back tomorrow to find out how it went.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
But for today, news reaches me of another campaign against US pressure with a link to breastfeeding.
Though the shops in the UK have been gearing up for Christmas (25 December) since September, I don't start to think about it until December arrives. Today, 6 December, or yesterday is celebrated as Saint Nicholas's Day in some countries, when good children receive their presents. In the UK, Saint Nicholas, known as Santa Claus, comes the night before on Christmas Eve' to secretly leave presents.
The traditional image of Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, is a jolly, plump man with a white beard, twinkly eyes and a white-fur edged red suit. "Ho, ho, ho. Happy Christmas everybody" is his well-known catch phrase.
Yet this image is relatively new. The red-coated Santa who sits in a grotto in shopping centres to hear what children would like for Christmas is based on images produced by artist Haddon Sundblom for a Coca-Cola 1931 advertising campaign. You can find various histories of Santa's evolution on the internet. Here's one that looks impressively comprehensive to me (though it hasn't been peer-reviewed as far as I am aware):
This image of Father Christmas is spreading the world. In Brazil you find the red-coated Santa, snow and reindeers. I recall riding on a sweltering bus in the summer-heat of a Malawian December and hearing the familiar songs with sleigh bells and winter wonderlands.
In the Czech Republic it is a little different and the origins of Christmas as the birthday of Jesus Christ figure prominently, with the presents distributed by baby Jesus.
So, getting to the point I came in on, there is a movement in the Czech Republic to retain their traditional celebration of Christmas in the face of the red-coated Santa commercial extravaganza it has become.
Part of this involves an image of the Madonna (mother of Jesus) and Child, with the gift-giving Jesus appropriating Santa's clothing. Kind of stealing the spirit of Christmas back.
You can see the image here: http://www.anti-santa.cz/index_en.php.
There is an explanation here: http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article2037441.ece
The moral of this story?
Well, for me it is that cultures are forever developing and responding to outside influences. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, though it may be. Such interaction is part of belonging to the human family. It also shows that our traditions may not be as traditional as we may think. And behind them sometimes lies commercial marketing.
Oh, and breast is best, of course.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
It seems there is an argument that the Philippines already has strong regulations and when Brazil was cited as a country that has gone even further than the proposed new regulations it was suggested Brazil's law is not so strong.
Well, excuse me. Being married to a Brazilian paediatrician, who has also coordinated the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) in Brazil and national monitoring projects, I feel qualified to differ.
As with the Philippines, it has taken concerted campaigning, backed by monitoring evidence, to bring in laws implementing the World Health Assembly marketing requirements. Brazil's law has gone through three versions (1988, 1992 and 2002) with the most recent version closing down loopholes in the previous law and addressing new marketing practices.
While the regulations currently under attack by the baby food industry in the Supreme Court cover products up to two years of age, the Brazilian regulations cover products for children up to three.
They cover feeding bottles, teats, nipple shields, specialised formulas and breastmilk fortifiers.
They have provisions for complementary foods and whole milks.
The Brazilian law bans humanized images from breastmilk substitutes. The legislators have had experience of how companies try to get around this, so the law tries to cover all angles. You can see it in the Portuguese on the IBFAN Brazil website. See http://www.ibfan.org.br/rdc222.htm
Here is my translation of the regs. regarding images on infant formula and follow-on formula it is forbidden to (article 4.6.1 of RDC 222):
use illustrations, photos or images of babies, young children, infants or any other form that resembles these, human or not, including humainzed fruits, vegetables, animals or flowers amongst others, which aim to induce the use of the product by these age groups.
I can imagine the legislator setting down the pen and saying: "That just about covers it".
And it has worked. Companies that use baby figures, soft toys, vegetables or whatever in neighbouring countries do not have any such images on labels in Brazil.
The regulations also specify Ministry of Health Warnings that should appear on various types of product.
Infant formula and follow-on formula has, in large text in a box:
Ministry of Health Warning: This product should only be used to feed children under one year of age on the express indication of a doctor or nutritionist. Breastfeeding prevents infections and allergies and strengthens the bond between mother and child."
What companies sometimes call 'growing up milks' have the text:
Ministry of Health Warning: This must not be used to feed children under one year of age. Breastfeeding prevents infections and allergies and is recommended up to two years of age or more.
Feeding bottles, teats and dummies (pacifiers) have to have the warning (Article 5.1.4 of RDC 221 - see http://www.ibfan.org.br/rdc221.html)
Ministry of Health Warning: A breastfed child does not need a feeding bottle, nipple or dummy. The use of a feeding bottle, nipple or dummy undermines breastfeeding and prolonged use can harm the teeth and speech of a child.
There are similar prohibitions on use of humanized images - though cartoon characters are still seen on the products of the likes of Gerber.
Complementary foods have to have a warning that they must not be used for infants under 6 months of age. Special display stands have this appearing prominently on them as well as on labels.
Whole milks have the warning:
Ministry of Health Warning: This product must not be used to feed children under one year of age, except on the express indication of a doctor or nutritionist. Breastfeeding prevents infections and allergies and is recommended until two years of age or more.
Companies do try to get around this all the same. We have a gallery of shame showing how Nestlé promotes whole milks alongside more expensive formula in the infant feeding section of pharmacies and supermarkets. See http://www.babymilkaction.org/resources/yqsanswered/yqanestle03.html. Studies have found that poor mothers are likely to use whole milk rather than formula if not breastfeeding (70% in one study in Ouro Preto), yet Nestlé refuses to stop this practice.
Another favoured route for reaching parents has been closed down though. Companies are forbidden from sponsoring education materials. The regulations (Portaria 2,051, Article 8, paragraph 2) states, after defining the information and warnings that must appear in educational materials:
Educations materials that deal with feeding young children cannot be produced or sponsored by distributors, importers or producers of products within the scope of the regulations.
Well, I think that is enough to be going on with. A good set of provisions, though not perfect (unlike India's law, commercial sponsorship of health workers is permitted - Nestlé sponsors publications and events of the paediatric society). They are enforced as well. When in Brazil we have called up the relevant body on seeing a promotion in a supermarket and it has quickly been removed. In some cities monitoring and confiscation of products breaking the law is carried out routinely by authorities.
If the Philippines moves some way in the direction of the Brazilian legislation and monitors and enforces it, as they do in Brazil, a similar effect is likely. A curtailing of aggressive promotion. And, coupled with breastfeeding promotion, an increase in breastfeeding rates. Rates in Brazil have been increasing markedly having collapsed following the entry of Nestlé and other companies at the beginning of the last century.
Leading to reduced sickness and deaths of infants.
So go for it. Brazil is one of the countries showing the way.
Monday, December 04, 2006
One of the effects of the attention the media is now giving to this issue is that the idealizing claims made by the baby food companies in the Philippines are being scrutinised. The Philippines Business World ran an article "What the milk companies don't want you to know", the Daily Inquirer "Thumbs down for milk formulas".
The Inquirer states: "Some manufacturers even advertise that their milk formulas can make the infants and children taking them smarter. If one is gullible enough, one would really believe, because of the well-executed ads, that milk formulas can actually change one's genetic IQ." These untrue claims are contrasted with the things the companies do not mention. Such as increased risk of short and long-term illness of artificially-fed infants and that breastfed infants are less likely to be obese.
One of the tasks today was adding our new poster to the website. This is about infant feeding and obesity and was prepared by our Policy Director, Patti Rundall, for the recent WHO Europe meeting on obesity. See our 'Policy Zone' for details at
The poster cites various studies on infant feeding and obesity and the policy advice of the US Centre for Disease Control, which suggests a cost-effective intervention that could be put in place immediately to address the obesity epidemic is breastfeeding promotion.
You can download the poster, which is full colour with some great images, from the website or purchase printed copies via our on-line Virtual Shop. See
Friday, December 01, 2006
Nestlé has a strong global franchise in baby milk and also owns babyfood brands such as Alete and Beba. In the past Nestlé has faced criticism over its aggressive marketing of baby milk products, especially in developing countries. Campaigners claim that this has contributed to unnecessary death and suffering of infants and have led a boycott against the company.
Yes, indeed. See http://www.babymilkaction.org/pages/boycott.html
But there are two aspects of this story that have not yet been reported.
As a company marketing baby foods and feeding bottles and teats, Gerber policies and practices should be in line with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly. It is required to comply with these measures independently of government measures. As Baby Milk Action's September 2006 Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet shows, Gerber continues to violate these measures in a systematic way. See http://www.babymilkaction.org/CEM/cemsept06.html#1
In the Philippines Gerber is one of a coalition of pharmaceutical companies that has taken the Government to the Supreme Court to challenge new regulations on the marketing of baby foods. Nestlé is not part of the legal action, but is opposed to the ban on promotion of products for babies up to two years of age. Publicly, and misleadingly, Nestlé claims it is supporting the new regulations. A question to ask Nestlé if the takeover goes ahead is will it withdraw Gerber from the legal action against the Philippines regulations? Will it also drop its opposition to the ban on promotion in the new regulations? See http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press9nov06.html
Despite the action in the Philippines, Novartis, the present owner of Gerber, recently gave undertakings that it would change its practices to bring its marketing of baby foods, bottles and teats into line with the Code and Resolutions and was admitted to the FTSE4Good listing on this basis (see the blog entry http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2006/11/waiting-to-applaud.html). Baby Milk Action was taking a 'wait and see' approach to this news, noting that violations continue (and I've just checked the Gerber site today and prohibited promotion continues there). We fear that if Nestlé, the worst of the baby food companies, purchases Gerber then the changes will not be made. Nestlé puts its own profits before infant health and, as a recent Guardian profile of the Chief Executive confirms, is dismissive of criticism (see blog entry http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2006/11/nestl-chief-executive-should-relax.html)
Nestlé is the target of a boycott launched by groups in 20 countries because of its aggressive marketing practices. An independent survey last year found Nestlé to be one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet. In a global internet vote coinciding with the World Economic Forum in 2005 Nestlé was voted to be the 'least responsible company'.
We haven’t done a press release about this just yet, but if any journalist is looking for a quote, here is one.
Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said: "Monitoring of Gerber's marketing of baby foods, feeding bottles and teats shows ongoing violations of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements. Recently Novartis indicated it would bring it practices into line but, given Nestlé's appalling record, we cannot see this promise being delivered if Gerber is taken over. Nestlé already dominates the market and is responsible for more violations of the marketing requirements than any other company, making it the target of the international boycott."
For further information contact Patti Rundall in the UK on 07786 523493 and see http://www.babymilkaction.org/