This dwarves the government's expenditure on promoting breastfeeding, which is £729,011 for 2006/07, a decrease on the previous year.
It is a mistake to think about attempting to outspend the formula industry, however. The industry needs to be regulated in accordance with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly.
As the preamble to the Code states: "in view of the vulnerability of infants in the early months of life and the risks involved in inappropriate feeding practices, including the unnecessary and improper use of breastmilk substitutes, the marketing of breastmilk substitutes requires special treatment, which makes usual marketing practices unsuitable for these products."
Wyeth/SMA is not seeking to provide information to parents, it will be using its massive resources to issue misleading propaganda which undermines breastfeeding and does not provide the information parents who will use formula are needing.
Our UK law campaign is calling for the Code and Resolutions to be implemented in full, for better support for mothers who are breastfeeding and correct, independent information on formula feeding for those that use it and clearer warnings and instructions. See:
Last year the Food Standards Agency wrote to the companies reminding them of the provisions of the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995, our weak implementation of the Code and Resolutions in the UK. The regulations allow only 6 claims on formula labels. The guidance issued to Trading Standards officers (download it here) is explicit about some of the claims that are not allowed, such as 'closer than ever to breastmilk'. Wyeth has launched new SMA labels since then claiming it is 'as close as possible to breastmilk' (just as Aptamil has launched labels claiming 'inspired by breastmilk').
The labels also include non-compliant claims such as 'improved protein balance' and 'easily digested'. Wyeth is already targeting health workers to promote its formula to parents. See:
These claims are not useful information for parents as they are simply promotional. Parents who decide to use formula require independent analysis of the different formulas on the market to understand the differences and how to reduce risks. SMA is suggesting its 'new protein balance' makes it as close as possible to breastmilk, yet all companies claim their formula is the closest to breastmilk for one reason or other. They are clearly not providing objective information. This is why the Code limits companies to providing scientific and factual information to health workers, who are responsible for advising parents. See:
The ban on promotion contained in the Code needs to be implemented and enforced. As do the bans on companies seeking contact with parents and offering inducements to health workers. We have exposed in the past how Wyeth, which already has a criminal conviction for illegal advertising, offers gifts and VIP trips to health workers to gain their support. See:
In the OK! Magazine promotion, Wyeth was ostensibly promoting its SMA follow-on milk. The weak UK law only prohibits infant formula advertising. Yet the advertisement displays the logo used for infant formula and directs people to a website promoting the full range of products. It is a de facto infant formula advertisement.
To date we have been disappointed by the action, or lack of it, by UK authorities to enforce the regulations. So as well as campaigning for companies to bring their practices into line, we also have to hold the authorities who should protect to public interest to account. I will say more about this in due course.
At the same time we ask you to support our campaign for full implementation of the Code and Resolutions to close the loopholes the companies exploit.