Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Philippines gains backing of UN human rights official

The United Nation's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Zeigler, has written to the Philippines Ambassador to the UN commending the government's action to defend infants from the aggressive marketing of the baby food industry.

This was reported in the Philippines Daily Inquirer on 12 January 2007. See the article:
UN rights body backs Republic of the Philippines vs int’l milk firms

Perhaps you have been following the unfolding story in these blogs and on our website If so, you will know that we are supporting colleagues in the Philippines who are trying to defend baby food marketing regulations introduced by the government. These have been challenged in court by US and Swiss companies and Nestlé, which is not part of the legal action, has opposed key provisions. The US Chamber of Commerce wrote to the President of the Philippines threatening investment to the country if the regulations remained and several days later they were suspended. The court case continues, though the government lawyer defending the regulations was assassinated on 6 December, the day our partners attended court to file papers in support of the regulations. While the killers are still unknown, the Solicitor General has said there may have been a link between the murder and this court case.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has written to encourage the government 'to pursue its firm stand on this issue despite increasing external pressures'.

His letter has become available. He wrote to the Philippines Ambassador at the UN on 27 November as follows:


I have the honour to write to you in my capacity as the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, appointed persuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution 2000/10, to General Assembly resolution 60/251 and to Human Rights Council decision 2006/102.

I am writing because I wish to congratulate your Excellency's Government, including the Secretary of Health, for adopting the new Implementing Rules and Regulations aimed at restricting those marketing practices promoting sales of formula milk for infants. These regulations update the 1986 Executive Order 51 also known as Milk Code, based on the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

Human milk is the ideal nourishment for infants' survival, growth and development. Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life stimulates babies' immune systems and protects them from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections, two of the major causes of infant mortality in the developing world, and improves their responses to vaccination. Particularly in unhygienic conditions, breastmilk substitutes carry a high risk of infection and can be fatal to infants.

Overwhelming evidence has shown that appropriate infant and young child feeding is key to eliminate child malnutrition, at the same time contributing to reducing child mortality and morbidity. Regulation of promotion and marketing of breastmilk substitutes is a step in the right direction as it complies with Government's obligations to protect, promote and advocate for appropriate and safe infant feeding, according to international standards.

I again commend your Excellency's Government for adopting the above mentioned regulations and encourage it to pursue its firm stand on this issue despite increasing external pressures, with a view to ultimately protect children's right to food and improve the lives of million of children.

This letter is very welcome and I hope it gives the government encouragement not to bow to pressure and interfere in the court case on behalf of the industry.

It gives me encouragement too. We see the companies try to paint Baby Milk Action as a group of extremists who are the only people still banging on about the need to regulate the baby food industry.

However, the standards we promote are those of the World Health Assembly, we look to the findings of scientific research and our criticism of companies is based on documentary evidence of on-going malpractice (you can see examples of what happens in the Philippines on our website, for example).

Though some of our tactics are designed to gain attention in the media and public eye we are one part of a much broader campaign to protect infant health.

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