Friday, March 23, 2007

Companies thumb their noses at UK authorities

So this is how it is going to be, is it? Continued flouting of the law on baby food marketing in the UK desite the crackdown called by the enforcement authorities.

As the New Year was beginning, Trading Standards and the Food Standards Authority informed supermarkets and baby food companies in the UK that they had to abide by the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995. They spelt out that promotion of infant formula in retail outlets is illegal and that claims cannot be made on infant formula labels or advertising, unless specifically allowed in the legislation. See:

Baby food companies said they would change their labels and according to media reports, these should appear in April. Old products can work their way through the distribution system it appears. Yet the change to advertising campaigns - which do not have a shelf life like formula - should be immediate. Similarly supermarkets could immediately pull their promotions.

So it is disappointing to receive yet more reports of illegal promotion of infant formula by Tesco. We have received reports of double club card points being offered on Hipp infant formula at Tesco stores in various parts of the country. As in the picture below.

Checking my local Tesco today I was amazed at the new shelf talkers that have appeared. The Food Standards Agency has explicitely told companies that the claim that the claim that "Prebiotics supporting baby’s natural defences" is not on the permitted list. The industry self-regulatory body, the Advertising Standards Authority, has also warned Cow & Gate (a NUMICO brand) not to make this blanket claim after it could not substantiate it. See:

While the companies claimed they would comply, I queried whether they would limit their action to infant formula and continue to make the same claims on follow-on milk and other breastmilk substitutes. So it is proving. The new shelf talkers I have photographed today in my local Tesco boast of the immunity protection offered by Cow & Gate formulas, using an umbrella labelled 'immunity'. As you see from the pictures, although the shelf talkers refer to the follow-on milk, so companies can argue they are not promoting infant formula and escape through a loophole in the UK law, they appear next to the infant formula.

Click here for a hi-resolution version. Cow & Gate 2 is an infant formula for use from birth. As it does not appear on the shelf talker, which pictures formulas with the same name and style, companies will argue it is not covered by the ban on promotion and idealizing claims.

Along the same shelves was another shelf talker, also from Cow & Gate, as below.

Click here for a hi-resolution version.

It appears supermarkets will ignore the warnings, perhaps until they are prosecuted.

It seems the baby food companies will become even more aggressive with the health claims they make about follow-on milks, to make up for the change they have to make on infant formula labels. This shows very clearly why the UK law needs to be brought into line with the World Health Assembly International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and prohibit the promotion of all breastmilk substitutes, not just infant formula. Remember, the Code has been in place since 1981 and Article 11.3 calls on companies to abide by its provisions independently of government action.

The companies are thumbing their noses at UK authorities. Will they get away with it?

To be continued...

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