Thursday, June 21, 2007

Prosecute the law breakers in the UK

The UK Minister for Public Health was asked a straight question and gave a straight answer: legislation for the marketing of baby foods is to be enforced.

That is hardly a radical position to take, but it needs to be said. The Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations were introduced in 1995. Amongst their provisions are those applying to labelling. Claims can only be made if they are on a permitted list, given in the way specified and conditions justifying them have to be satisfied. There are 6 on the list. Things like 'now even closer to breastmilk', 'LCPs for development', 'protecting natural defences' are not on the list. Companies have been breaking the law for the past 12 years.

Lynne Jones, Member of Parliament for Selly Oak asked the Public Health Minister, Caroline Flint, about this. The question and answer are recorded in Hansard.

Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what action she is taking to encourage relevant authorities to prosecute companies that continue to make claims on infant formula labels and promotional material for baby milk which are non-compliant with current legislation. [143720]

Caroline Flint: The local authorities coordinators of regulatory services issued updated guidance in late 2006 to clarify the types of claims about infant formula that are prohibited. All local authority enforcement offices have been made aware of the new guidance and encouraged to enforce the United Kingdom legislation to ensure companies comply with the rules on claims.


I wrote some time ago about the letters sent to the baby food companies and Trading Standards officers. See:

We have exposed what is wrong with labels. George Monbiot wrote about the non-compliant claims he found in his local shop earlier this week. See:,,2106086,00.html

We have monitored any changes. Some labels are still to change. Some have been changed, but continue to include claims that are not on the permitted list. See:

We could ask why the authorities have not taken the law breakers to court already. But let's look to the future instead.

The Public Health Minister says the authorities are "encouraged to enforce the United Kingdom legislation to ensure companies comply with the rules on claims".

The authorities have already tried writing to companies, but the companies either haven't acted or issued new labels that still do not comply. They have the power to take the companies to court to enforce the legislation. The Food Standards Agency has a fund to underwrite legal action that is in the public interest.

So will they heed the Minister and enforce the legislation?

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