Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Companies show contempt for Philippines regulations

I've just posted company responses to our campaign in support of the Philippines.

These companies are opposing baby food marketing regulations introduced by the Department of Health. In the next few weeks the Supreme Court will have to decide whether to put company interests first, or those of infants and their families. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has said he is appalled at company tactics in opposing the regulations. According to the World Health Organisation 16,000 babies die in the Philippines every year because of inappropriate feeding.

Abbott says it supports breastfeeding and the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, but it is party to the legal action that has blocked the government regulations implementing the Code and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly. It is also violating the Code with idealizing claims on its labels, such as its boast its infant formula is an 'IQ nutrition system'.

Similac Philippines 2006

Such claims - and idealizing images - have been prohibited since the Code was introduced in 1981, but companies continue these aggressive strategies unless stopped by independently monitored and enforced regulations.

Nestlé is not party to the legal action and in a letter to Baby Milk Action, copied to influential policy makers, it portrays itself as supporting the regulations and the marketing requirements.

In doing so it falsely claims that Baby Milk Action only refers to examples of marketing malpractice from the 1990s - for Nestlé malpractice is always in the past, even when it denied it at the time. In any case, Nestlé's claim is untrue. We referred to recent and current activities, such as giving gifts to health workers, targeting mothers in the community and labelling its formula as containing 'Brain Building Blocks', an idealizing claim it references to 'experts'. Nestlé is referring to Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids - an independent, expert review of research by the Cochrane Library found the claims are not substantiated.

Nestlé Nestogen formula 2006

As so often in the past, Nestlé's attempt at scoring public relations points has backfired as we have responded with a letter exposing its dishonesty and have sent copies to those on Nestlé's distribution list.

Nestlé claims to support the regulations, but in reality has opposed key provisions, such as the scope, which covers foods for children up to two years of age. Nestlé wants to limit it to infants up to one year.

Novartis, owner of Gerber, is particularly disappointing in its response. It is boasting in its public relations materials of being accepted into the FTSE4Good ethical investment listing. This was on the understanding that it would make changes to its practices to bring them into line with the World Health Assembly marketing requirements.

The President and Chief Executive of Gerber, Kurt Schmidt, responded to Baby Milk Action's letter which welcomed the commitment Novartis had given and spelt out some of the violations we had seen which require changing if it is to deliver on that commitment. The response addresses none of them. For example, instead of agreeing to stop idealizing promotion of feeding bottles and teats on its website, Mr. Schmidt holds up the website as an example of how it provides information to mothers.

I've just checked now and all the violations we highlighted continue on the Gerber website, such as its advice to introduce feeding bottles with the claim:

Many dads, grandparents and other caregivers can bond with baby by taking part in the feeding process. They can help by giving a bottle of expressed milk or formula in the early evening or in the middle of the night. This gives mom a chance to rest and gives other special caregivers an opportunity to feed baby and form emotional bonds.

Infant feeding experts recommend that expressed milk is given with cups. Introducing bottles or supplementing with formula interferes with lactation. But Gerber tries to recruit fathers in its efforts to iundermine breastfeeding, with images such as this:
Gerber dad image
Regarding the Philippines, Novartis was asked to distance itself from the attack on the regulations by its partners in the Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines (PHAP) and failed to do so. It suggested that the regulations relate only to 'Infant Milk Formula', when in reality they cover products for infants up to two years of age, so including products in Gerber's portfolio.

Wyeth (manufacturer of SMA) was more straightforward in some respects, openly admitting it was opposed to the regulations. It claimed that this was in the interests of infants as mothers require information. Mothers do indeed require information, but free from commercial interest, which is why the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was introduced 25 years ago. The Code gives responsibility for advising parents to health workers and limits companies to providing scientific and factual information to health workers.

Wyeth, which has a criminal conviction in the UK for a 'cynical and deliberate breach' of the ban on advertising of infant formula is party, through the PHAP, to an advertisement in the Philippines arguing that mothers need information. The claims made in the advertisement in itself undermines breastfeeding as I wrote about recently. See:

It is in the best interests of infants and mothers that companies are regulated. Where the International Code and Resolutions, which are minimum standards, have been implemented in independently monitored and enforced regulations aggressive marketing such as that shown above is stopped. In some countries breastfeeding rates are increasing markedly, partly as a result (promotion of breastfeeding is also important) and this reduces infant mortality and morbidity.

It is hoped the Supreme Court will put infants first and defend the Department of Health regulations.

For the full text of the letters from companies see:

Journalists interested in reporting on the industry attack on the regulations can contact us for additional information.

Please do keep up the pressure on companies by writing to them.

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