Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Nestlé declares war in the Philippines

There is a big article about the Philippines case in the Asia Times today. If you haven't been paying attention, then the article gives a good round up. See:

This contains news of what amounts to a declaration of war from Nestlé on health advocates in the Philippines, specifically UNICEF and WHO.

For our past campaigning and its impact in bringing this to media attention in the Philippines see:

Basically, the Ministry of Health introduced baby food marketing regulations last year, concerned at the 16,000 deaths from inappropriate feeding practices. These implemented provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions, which companies should be abiding by whether they are in legislation or not. Many of the companies claim to do so. The Pharmaceutical companies took the Ministry of Health to court which suspended the regulations after the US Chamber of Commerce threatened investment in the country.

Nestlé is not a pharmaceutical company and not part of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) bringing the legal action. However it has opposed key parts of the regulations, such as the scope covering products for children up to two years of age as in other countries (some countries legislation covers products up to three years of age). Nestlé even attacked Baby Milk Action for including it in a campaign for action, unfairly alleging that violations we highlighted were years old. Not only are violations recent and current, Nestlé had been told by authorities in the Philippines not to give the gifts we highlighted.

Earlier this year, UNICEF Philippines issued a film exposing the strategies used by the companies and their impact on infants and their families. Several companies are featured in the film, including Nestlé. You can view the film here.

Now the Asia Times reports that Nestlé is attacking UNICEF's country representative Nicholas Alipui, who appears in the film: "On May 25, Nestle Philippines Inc... wrote a letter to Alipui to protest the UNICEF documentary, which it alleged was "inadvertently slanted in a manner that showed our company in a bad light"."

Ah, right. I would re-word that slightly myself: Shining a light on Nestlé makes it look bad because people see its practices clearly.

The solution is simple. Change the practice.

Asia Times goes on: "At the same time, the complaint, signed by D Nandkishore, the firm's chairman and chief executive officer, also lambasted the advertisements of competitor milk firms dealing in infant formula, calling them "exaggerated", especially "those that promise to give children increased intelligence or even become gifted, for which there is no scientific basis". "

This is the same D Nandhishore who wrote to me with the false claims that our allegations are years old. In fact one of the things we highlight is Nestlé's current infant formula labels in the Philippines. Here is the Nestogen 'new improved' label:

You might think that as Nestlé attacks competitors claims it would not use such tactics itself. But as you see, the Nestlé label undermines the legally required notice on the importance of breastfeeding with a logo claiming the formula contains 'Brain Building Blocks', adding: "Experts recognize DHA as essential for brain development and good vision."

This is a Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (LCPUFA), of which the Cochrane Library states: "At present there is little evidence from randomised trials of LCPUFA supplementation to support the hypothesis that LCPUFA supplementation confers a benefit for visual or general development of term infants".


So Nestlé is correct there is no scientific basis for the claims, but makes them itself.

The next comment in the Asia Times piece is, therefore, hilarious: "Nestle, which it notes is not a member of PHAP, says it strictly adheres to international and local marketing codes for infant formula and has offered to engage UNICEF, the WHO and the Health Department in an "open and transparent dialogue"."

Ho, ho, ho. A little re-wording required again: Nestlé, which monitoring around the world finds to be responsible for more violations of the marketing requirements than any other company, misrepresents its own actions while trying to label its competitors as worse and then has the nerve to talk about transparency and 'engagement'.

But that is not the worse of it. Asia Times explains: "The International Formula Council (IFC), a lobbying organization of milk companies composed of multinational firms such as Nestle USA, Abbott, Wyeth, and Mead Johnson, wrote a strongly worded letter to the UNICEF regional office in Bangkok last year complaining about the performance of Nicholas Alipui, UNICEF's country representative to the Philippines..... contended that he was "not competent" to look after the welfare of Filipino children. The letter also criticized the WHO's country representative at the time, Jean Marc Olive, for his public statements on the issue."

Nicholas Alipui is not to be dissuaded.

"In an interview, Alipui took strong issue with the lobby group's allegations. "I [now] realize the enormity of the challenge that we're facing and how big the opposition from the milk companies is going to be," he said. "I think the fact that they are able to penetrate [UN] organizations to the point of trying to undermine representatives is an indication that they feel that they have enough influence to challenge individuals who represent [these organizations] in their respective countries," Alipui said."

We have sent off our petition of solidarity to partners in the Philippines as the court case will shortly reach its conclusion. Thank you for everyone who has signed. As you can see only too well from the action of Nestlé and its colleagues, those on the ground need all the support they can get and need to know the world is watching.

Nestlé and the rest need to know that their behaviour is unacceptable. Please do keep sending messages to the companies responsible. See:

And in the case of Nestlé, the worst and most aggressive of the companies, you can target it with the boycott. Put a Nestlé-Free Zone logo on your site if you have one, spread the word and tell Nestlé you will boycott it till it changes. See:

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