Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Partial victory at Philippines Supreme Court goes some way to protecting infant health - but action is still needed

The Supreme Court in the Philippines has published a 53-page ruling on the Deparment of Health's Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations (RIRR) for the marketing of baby foods.

The Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines (PHAP) petitioned the Supreme Court to block the regulations last year. When that move failed, the US Chamber of Commerce put pressure on the President of the country, threatening investment if the regulations stood. Four days later the Supreme Court imposed a Temporary Restraining Order on the RIRR. We mounted a petition of solidarity with the people of the Philippines which you may have signed. This helped bring media attention to the issue and showed the world was watching.

The order has now been lifted meaning the regulations come into force, though the Court ruled against some of the provisions they contain.

I am awaiting a full copy of the ruling, but from what I hear from colleagues in the Philippines, there is some good news.

The Department of Health wanted to include milks for older babies and children in the scope of the regulations. This now goes ahead, though not the outright ban on advertising that was wanted.

The Department of Health requirements on labelling also go ahead, meaning companies can be required to warn parents that powdered formula is not sterile and may contain harmful bacteria and compelled to include instructions on how to reduce risks. This is extremely important as the case in Belgium I wrote about last week demonstrates. See:

The decision recognises the Department of Health's right to update the regulations, as specified in the 1986 Milk Code (known as EO51) and, in particular, the Department's right to decide whether donations and sponsorship from the baby food industry is acceptable or not. The industry's argument that this was a restriction on trade was rejected.

The bad news is that the outright prohibition on advertising of milks for older babies was not upheld. If you have seen the UNICEF Philippines film, you will know that these are widely advertised with idealizing claims.

Although there will be no outright ban without changing the primary legislation, the Court decision means these advertisements now come within the scope of the Inter Agency Committee which screens advertisements. If the independence of the Committee can be achieved, then it will be able to remove idealizing claims, such as those suggesting formula develops a child's intelligence. So television advertisements promoting milks by showing a child giving a violin recital may soon be a thing of the past.

I was asked for a quote for the media in the Philippines.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:

“The many people and organisations around the world who signed our petition of solidarity with the people of the Philippines will welcome the news that the right of the Department of Health to issue the regulations called for by EO51 has been upheld.

"However, I understand the ruling does strike down some of the provisions, such as the ban on advertising of breastmilk substitutes pointing instead to improved vetting of these. The proposed outright ban would undoubtedly have done more to protect infant health, providing clarity for all involved. The claims made by companies about formula feeding are shockingly idealizing and we hope that the vetting committee will take a strong line in prohibiting these claims.

“Health campaigners in the Philippines have had to withstand great pressure from the industry in putting infant health first and they are an inspiration to others around the world. It is never easy holding powerful vested interests to account and this partial victory offers great encouragement to us all.”

Now the restraining order on the RIRR has been lifted urgent action is needed to stop advertisements such as this from Wyeth (makers of SMA) for Bonakid milks from 22 September 2007:

While the Inter Agency Committee will now be able to pre-screen such advertising and reject inaccurate claims (such as the suggestions in this advertisement that the milk develops intelligence and protects against immunity), it would be much clearer for all involved if there was an outright ban on advertising of such milks.

There are various bills before Congress - including a spoiling one containing industry demands - so while celebrating the partial victory at the Supreme Court, campaigning will continue to close the loopholes that the Court has allowed to remain.

We will issue a press release shortly.

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