Monday, December 18, 2006

UK supermarkets are useless at abiding by baby milk regs

One of the things I was doing today was a review of aggressive baby food marketing in UK supermarkets.

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:
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.

UK Law

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?

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