Tuesday, August 07, 2007

We need to learn from the controversy over SMA and the Jordan feature in OK! Magazine

The Wyeth/SMA formula promotion in OK! Magazine with an article about Katie Price/Jordan and her new daughter has certainly generated a lot of attention on infant feeding issues today! Our partner organisations, the National Childbirth Trust and Save the Children, have joined us in reporting the companies to the authorities. They also released a joint report with UNICEF on the need to strengthen the UK law. Baby Milk Action provided images for this from the monitoring project we run on behalf of the Baby Feeding Law Group, a coalition of UK health worker and mother support organisations. You can download the report at:

This includes some of the actions the Baby Feeding Law Group is calling for the UK Government to take to implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions. For a fuller list of actions and some quick things you can do in support of the campaign see:

It often happens when this issue comes to public and media attention that the call for regulation of companies is seen by some as an attack on mothers who formula feed. Headlines such as "Breast-feeding lobby criticises Jordan for infant formula 'stunt'" do not help. An otherwise excellent article was let down by this sensationalism.

I specifically said in my media statement that we are targeting the company, not Jordan. My statement is available here with my blog on the OK! promotion:

I am pleased that this report in the free paper, Metro, handed out to commuters on the London underground and in other cities, drew from my quote. See:

A baby foods manufacturer has been accused of breaking a ban on advertising formula milk after Jordan was pictured in a magazine using a branded bottle....

Mr Brady said: "How Jordan feeds her child is her decision. No-one should try to make a mother feel guilty about how she feeds her child.

"My anger is directed at SMA, which knows its campaign in OK! Magazine promoting SMA formula breaches marketing requirements adopted by the World Health Assembly.

"It is particularly cynical that this advertisement and celebrity endorsement are being run during World Breastfeeding Week."
---extract ends

In the article it states : "SMA denied any deliberate product placement and said it has no commercial relationship with Jordan and had no knowledge of the article or picture before it came out."

The investigation by the authorities will hopefully reveal the truth. Wyeth/SMA is certainly exploiting the controversy to do further marketing, saying in its statement: "Katie Price is simply doing what any new mother does and bonding with her baby whilst feeding" and trying to get information into reports on where to buy the ready-to-feed bottles shown in the product-placement shot. It is not overly suspicious to think this was the intent of such a controversial advertising campaign.

We are calling for OK! to be investigated as well as Wyeth/SMA. It too has responsibilities under the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995 when it comes to giving information on infant feeding. You can download my letter to the Advertising Standards Authority by clicking here. This references the law.

As I said yesterday, we did not know how complicit Jordan was in the promotion. Wyeth is saying it has no contract with her, nor did it provide the formula. I've not heard back from Jordan as yet, but see that Radio 1, a UK youth-orientated radio station, has. See:

They report: "In a statement, Jordan, real name Katie Price, says she wasn't paid by the company behind the advert - it just happened to appear on the next page. The model says breastfeeding hasn't worked for her but it's a case of everyone to their own thing."

I hope she will be more alert to the impact she can have in future. She is influential and some people will learn from her example. We invite Jordan and all mothers who use formula to support our campaign, which is to protect them as well as to stop breastfeeding from being undermined.

Most mothers who formula feed will use powdered infant formula, not the ready-to-feed pictured in OK! Powdered infant formula is not a sterile product and precautions need to be taken in its preparation. Companies are so far refusing to give mothers the necessary information to reduce risks because they do not want to draw attention to the risks. This is irresponsible and shows how companies put sales before health. Mothers using formula can find the information denied to them by the formula companies in this leaflet from UNICEF:

Looking at the discussion boards and listening to some of the radio programmes, it is worrying how polarised and charicatured this issue has become in this country. The industry must be rubbing their hands, gleefully hoping that people will see the call for better regulations as an attack on women's rights when it is, in reality, the opposite.

For me the following facts show why there should be a united front for better regulations:

1. According to a government survey 90% of mothers who stopped breastfeeding before 6 months said they wanted to breastfeed for longer. We are not talking about forcing mothers to breastfeed, but empowering them. Everyone says 'breast is best' so why aren't mothers able to breastfeed for as long as they want?

2. If they lived in Sweden the chances are they would have breastfed as long as they wanted. In Sweden 98% of mothers initiate breastfeeding, compared to 76% in the UK. In the UK, rates decline rapidly with less than half of babies (48%) breastfed at 6 weeks.

3. Mothers who use formula are denied essential information on how to reduce risks by the formula companies. The companies cannot be trusted. They need to be regulated. Mothers need independent sources of information.

I recommend anyone who is interested in how to better communicate on this issue should read some of the comments on discussion boards, such as the Radio 1 website. There is something seriously wrong when many posts are saying that breastfeeding is rammed down people's throats and they are made to feel guilty for not breastfeeding, but many other posts are saying they did not have enough information and support to breastfeed successfully.

The Breastfeeding Manifesto campaign, which we back, has 7 points addressing all aspects of what is necessary for mothers to have the support they need.

For the message to come across clearly, however, we campaigners need to ensure all mothers are with us. Not only to protect breastfeeding, but to reduce risks from formula.

I am always keen to hear from members of the public what they think of our campaign messages and aims. Companies have demonstrated repeatedly that they cannot be trusted to give accurate information about formula feeding and as commercial organisations they will inevitably try to increase sales so I am particularly interested in thoughts on how mothers who use formula can obtain the information they need. Materials such as the UNICEF leaflet exist, but do people know about them and why they are important given the lack of required information on labels?

Please do get in touch or leave comments here.

We are alert to the campaign being misrepresented or misconstrued, hence my quote trying to forestall unwarranted criticism. But the discussion around the promotion with the Jordan feature has highlighted, once again, the need for better communication. Let us learn from it.


Crepuscule said...

I have tried to post the following response to Save the Children's Peter Shackleton's comment on the Guardian website http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/peter_shackleton/2007/08/jordan_should_know_breast_is_b.html
The point is not whether breast is best or not, or whether breastfeeding advocates are too aggressive, or formula-feeding mums are made to feel shame (or Jordan's use/misuse/abuse of her breasts).

The point is that for a woman to make her own decision about how she chooses to feed her baby she needs information, and that advertisements are not information - they are commercial promotions.

On this issue, the government has a duty (1) to provide unbiased information for mums and (2) to stop companies promoting their inevitably biased information. Only then can women make an informed judgement.

Anonymous said...

Great articles

Mike Brady said...

For more on the need for better labelling of infant formula see:

Epiphany said...

"In a statement, Jordan, real name Katie Price, says she wasn't paid by the company behind the advert - it just happened to appear on the next page. The model says breastfeeding hasn't worked for her but it's a case of everyone to their own thing."

This is rubbish, Katie Price stated quite clearly when interviewed by Frank Skinner wheb she was first pregnan with Harvey that she had no intention of breastfeeding. It's not that "breastfeeding hasn't worked out" for her, she just doesn't want to do it and damn the consequences to her own and her childrens health.

We will never know the truth about any agreement or payment between SMA and Jordan, but I personally don't believe that it was sheer accident or coincidence that the brand on that bottle was so clearly visable.

This is why we need a total ban on all formula advertising, with no loop-holes or grey areas for the formula manufacturers to exploit.