Friday, August 03, 2007

Wyeth/SMA promotes formula in OK! magazine in World Breastfeeding Week

Update 11 August: Also see blogs:
Which infant formula is the best?
We need to learn from the controversy over SMA and the Jordan feature in OK! Magazine

Here in the UK Wyeth/SMA is marking World Breastfeeding Week with a major promotion for its infant formula in a mass-circulation celebrity magazine. Journalists can find a quote from me at the end of this entry.

OK! magazine has a profile of celebrity couple, model Katie Price (Jordan) and singer Peter Andre, presenting their baby Princess Tiáamii and SMA Gold ready-to-feed formula.

"Are you breast-feeding Katie?" asks the interviewer.

Jordon: "No. Its brilliant. I have 20 crates of teats and bottles – I don’t have to sterilise or heat anything, you literally take the teat out of the pack, screw it on, throw it away. I don’t care what people say – you don’t have to breast-feed. They gave me a tablet that dries your milk so my boobs haven’t leaked or anything."

Pete adds: "Junior didn’t breast-feed and he’s turned out fine."

"So why did you decide not to breastfeed?"

Jordon: "I don’t want a baby drinking from me. The thought of it makes me feel really funny. I think only a certain person could handle my knockers."

A double-page spread shows Jordan using the ready-to-feed formula, carefully angled to show the brand name clearly.

Click here for a large version.

The very next page of the magazine has an advertisement for SMA formula.

Click here for a large version.

The caption with the product-placement picture has Jordan saying: "I love her anyway, even if she is a ginge!", referring to her daughter's ginger coloured hair. The advertisement on the following page says: "Baby in your arms. Love in your heart. Carrot in your hair."

Follow-on formula is shown in the advertisement rather than infant formula as advertising of follow-on formula is currently permitted by the UK law. However, this has the same branding as the infant formula on the previous page, making a clear link to it. The website given on the advertisement promotes the full range of formulas. So the advertisement is a de facto advertisement for infant formula, and so within the scope of the ban on infant formula advertising.

We do not yet know whether there was an explicit contract to include SMA Gold infant formula in the article shots, but clearly there has been a contract between Wyeth/SMA and OK! magazine for placing of the advertisement, making the promotion as a whole highly suspect.

This is not about how Jordan or anyone else chooses to feed their child. It is about how companies push their products and promote the message that formula feeding is equivalent to breastfeeding.

In the UK, according to a government survey, 34% of mothers incorrectly believe that formula is the same or almost the same as breastfeeding. Mothers have a right to know the truth about the differences between formula feeding and breastfeeding. It is a right that is protected by Article 24 of the Convenction on the Rights of the Child. Drawing attention to this information is not anti-formula, nor is it an attack on mothers who use formula. It is a necessary step to ensure mothers are able to make an informed decision about infant feeding. See my past blog for a more detailed discussion on this point at:

OK! magazine is the biggest-selling celebrity magazine in the UK with a circulation of 493,013 according to the Digital DNA blog, meaning the readership will be several times this.

So in World Breastfeeding Week Wyeth/SMA has pulled off a coup promoting its formula to millions of people in the UK with a celebrity endorsement.

What a contrast this is to World Breastfeeding Week in Brazil, where one of the best known celebrity couples have been promoting the benefits of breastfeeding and the importance of initiating breastfeeding in the first hour after birth. See:

There are other differences with the situation in Brazil. Unlike the UK Government, the Brazilian Government has implemented the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly. The UK Government was called on to do the same by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2002, but has still not done so (see our press release from 2002).

In Brazil Wyeth/SMA's follow-on formula advertisement would be illegal. Brazil has also banned product placement.

And so in Brazil we see breastfeeding rates have been increasing year on year as mothers are empowered to breastfeed. The median duration is now 10 months. In the UK on the other hand, government efforts to promote and support breastfeeding have only had a small impact on initiation rates. Without an end to aggressive marketing, positive messages about breastfeeding and how to get support to overcome difficulties are swamped. The message many mothers seem to have picked up is: give breastfeeding a go and if it doesn't work out, reach for the formula. Accordingly, duration is virtually unchanged or even declining in some parts of the country according to the latest Infant Feeding Survey statistics, released in May. See:

In Brazil increasing breastfeeding rates will inevitably help reduce infant mortality and morbidity. In the UK, the National Health Service spends millions treating infants who are sick because they are formula fed (in 1995 the Department of Health calculated it cost £35 million to treat the greater incidence of gastro-entiritis in formula-fed infants alone - see the UNICEF Baby Friendly website).

The Breastfeeding Manifesto coalition is calling for the UK Government to implement a 7-step plan to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. Members of Parliament are calling for action to be taken over health claims that Wyeth/SMA and other companies make on labels. For further information (including an internet cartoon from UNICEF, Save the Children and the National Childbirth Trust, voiced by Mariella Fostrup) and action you can take to help strengthen and enforce the UK law, see:

The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was adopted by the World Health Assembly with UK Government support as a minimum requirement for all countries as long ago as 1981. While our policy makers continue to drag their feet and argue against full implementation, mothers and infants lack the protection of those in Brazil and many other countries.

But there are some things you can do if you are concerned about the advertising and product promotion in OK! magazine. You can remind the publishers and Wyeth/SMA that article 5.1 of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes states: "There should be no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public of products within the scope of this Code."

Article 17.1 of the UK law, the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995, states: "No person shall publish or display any advertisement for an infant formula". The only exceptions are in information for health workers, trade press or publications restricted to the health care system. Companies are currently allowed to advertise follow-on milks, but you could argue that the follow-on milk advertisement is a de facto infant formula advertisement using the argument set out above.

It is for the Advertising Standards Authority and Trading Standards to investigate whether the arrangement behind the product placement in the article comes within the scope of the law. You can join us in asking them to investigate. For details of how to do so, see the monitoring page of the Baby Feeding Law Group website. You can use this site to report examples of aggressive marketing to us. See:

If you do contact the authorities, do let us know what happens.

Wyeth/SMA has recently embarked on a 'closer to breastmilk' promotion for its formula, despite a warning from the Food Standards Agency that such claims are not permitted. We warned of this back in April. See:

Wyeth/SMA already has a criminal conviction for a 'cynical and deliberate breach of the regulations' (see our press release). It does not seem to have learned from the experience.

If all of this leaves you feeling frustrated at the greedy way Wyeth/SMA puts its own profits first and the lack of action from policy makers and the authorities, then please do take the action suggested above.

Then have a look at this 1 minute film I knocked together in a moment of frustration a while back. It may make you feel better.

You can see the clip on Youtube at:

Note: I have disabled comments on this post to keep the focus on Wyeth/SMA. We don't yet know if there was an arrangement with Jordan to promote the formula. In the Independent on Sunday, Wyeth claimed it was a 'coincidence' that their advertisement appeared after the product-placement shot. See:

I'll write more about this next week, then you can leave me comments.

The media can draw from the following quote.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action which is filing complaints with the Advertising Standards Authority and Trading Standards, 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, our responsibility is to ensure all mothers receive accurate information on infant feeding and support if they have problems breastfeeding. My anger is directed at Wyeth which knows its campaign in OK! magazine promoting SMA formula breaches marketing requirements adopted by the World Health Assembly. If Wyeth is able to escape through the loopholes in the weak UK formula marketing regulations, then it shows why the law must be brought into line, as all UK health worker bodies and mother support groups are advocating. It is particularly cynical that this advertisement and celebrity endorsement are being run during World Breastfeeding Week. In countries such as Brazil, advertising of follow-on milks and product placement of any formulas is illegal. It is 26 years since the WHA introduced its marketing requirements, so why on earth are infants and mothers in the UK still waiting to have the same protection as in many other countries?

“Wyeth already has one criminal conviction in the UK for illegal formula advertising and last year was told by the Food Standards Agency that claims on its formula packaging, such as ‘now even closer to breastmilk’ are ‘non-compliant’ with UK law. It has just launched new formula packaging with new claims we believe are also non-compliant and a new logo incorporating a stylised breastfeeding mother. We are calling for the authorities to take the company to court once again. When the company shows such contempt for regulations and for the rights of mothers and infants, the authorities must take strong action.”

Update 7 August. See:
We need to learn from the controversy over SMA and the Jordan feature in OK! Magazine