Friday, September 28, 2007

The UK law consultation closes - now will the government act?

It has been a slog, but we have completed our submission to the UK Government's consultation on strengthening the formula marketing regulations and sent it off. It's a 40-page document responding to specific questions and setting out why we and our partners in the Baby Feeding Law Group and Breastfeeding Manifesto coalition want the Government to bring the UK law into line with international standards.

I would like to thank everyone involved for their help with it. In providing reports about baby food company marketing practices to our monitoring project, for expert input, for proof reading, for gaining the official support of your organisation. Just about all health professional and mother support groups are backing the call for implementation of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements in the UK.

Whether the Government will act remains to be seen. Our aim and that of our partners is to protect all mothers and infants, whether breastfeeding or formula-feeding, by ensuring information is accurate and independent, support for mothers for breastfeeding and support for those who use formula to reduce the risks.

Our report is called: Protecting breastfeeding. Protecting babies fed on formula.

There will be an official launch in due course. You can read the report and obtain a printed copy via the Baby Milk Action website.

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning.

We have to see if the Food Standards Agency will take on board the views of the health experts and implement the international standards. As in every country, it will be up against the lobbying of the baby food industry. And, as I reported earlier this week, our Minister for Public Health was sharing a platform with Nestlé at a Nestlé-sponsored event at the Labour Party Conference. The event was about obesity. Ironically, if the government took action to protect breastfeeding, it would have an impact on obesity. Nestlé is not a big player in the UK formula market - its attempts to break in have gone disasterously wrong. But the companies that are here also have a record of aggression against legislaton that may hamper their growth in sales. For example, Wyeth/SMA is involved in a legal battle in the Philippines to have regulations struck down.

The draft UK regulations put out for consultation were not good. We now have to see what will be presented to the Parliament. Then we will have to campaign to ensure a weak law is strengthened or a strong law is not sabotaged. So much to do. But having worked on the report through the past few weekends, it is time for a rest.

One thing to finish. I had to check one of the statistics I have been using. This came from the Government Infant Feeding Survey 2005, which states : "Nine in ten mothers who gave up breastfeeding within six months would have preferred to breastfeed for longer, this level declining as breastfeeding duration increased. Although even among those who breastfed for at least six months, 40% would have liked to continue longer."

It's on page 221 of the report, but it is wrong as one of the experts working on the submission pointed out.

These are the actual findings in graphical form. This shows the proportion of mothers who stopped breastfeeding who would have liked to breastfeed longer:

Elsewhere in the report it states 9 out of 10 mothers who stopped breastfeeding by 6 weeks (not months) said they wanted to breastfeed for longer.

All the same, 40% of mothers who breastfed for at least 6 months said they wanted to breastfeed for longer.

Something is wrong if so many mothers are not able to breastfeed for as long as they wish.

Stopping the aggressive formula marketing practices is only the part of the story, of course. Mothers experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding need support.

An integrated approach can work. This is a graph from a Brazilian paper by Dr. Marina Rea, showing how median breastfeeding rates have recovered from less than 3 months in the 1970s to more than 10 months today.

The text refers to various initiatives to support mothers, including introducing progressively stronger legislation. I've written about this previously at:

When I saw the UK government survey report had this error with the 90% figure, I thought of making a flippant comment about not being able to trust the government.

But we do have to trust they will put infant health and mothers rights first (saving a fortune at the same time) by strengthening the law.

We can set out the evidence. We can campaign - and we will need your help to lobby your Member of Parliament if you are in the UK.

But at the end of the day, it is the politicians who hold the power to decide what is written into legislation.

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