Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Philippines Health Secretary says protecting public health came above narrow trade interests in Supreme Court victory

Today the Department of Health, UNICEF and WHO held a joint press conference. There is a report on the Balita website at:

The following extract shows how the victory at the Supreme Court is only the beginning. The regulations that came into force with the lifting of a Temporary Restraining Order must now be enforced Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said:

---extract begins

”We believe that the most important part of the battle is already won as we now get to screen all the information of milk companies’ future advertisement for misleading and un-scientific claims,” Duque pointed out, stressing they can now regulate manufacturers’ misleading and fake claims on infant formula as well as on those quite known which tend to undermine the superior qualities of breast milk.

The health chief admitted that these fake claims on infant formulas has brought down to less than 16 percent the number of mothers who are into breastfeeding.

According to Duque, the DOH, together with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), unanimously hailed the SC ruling as a victory worth celebrating.

He also thanked those who have helped the department to score points in the campaign to save lives of Filipino infants.

”The real battle, however, is only beginning. Hence we continue to ask for their action and advocacy as we now take the fight out of the Court to our communities,” he added.
---extract ends

For my retrospective on the action it took to face down the power and greed of the baby food transnationals see:

As well as enforcing the regulations, the Department of Health is seeking to remove loopholes in the primary legislation so that all promotion of breastmilk substitutes can be banned in line with the provision of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly.

At the press conference the gains were stressed:

---extract begins
Meantime, Health Undersecretary Alex Padilla said that the SC ruling, among many things, upheld the following: widening the scope of coverage of regulated products to include those for older children (above 12 months), powers relating to the regulation of advertisements; right to specify warnings such as ‘there is no substitute to breast milk’ and that milk formula may contain pathogenic microorganisms; right to delete, reject and prohibit false health and nutrition claims; ban on company involvement in scientific research and policy making, ban on distributing company information through health facilities, and prohibiting donations from companies.
---extract ends

The US Chamber of Commerce threatened the President of the Philippines with disinvestment if the regulations went ahead. Four days after the threat the Supreme Court imposed the Temporary Restraining Order on the regulations. With its lifting last week the Secretary for Health commented that: "By reinforcing the power of the DOH to more strongly regulate milk company sponsorships and advertisements and upholding the independence of the health community in scientific research and policy, the Supreme Court has shown the country’s sovereignty in protecting public health above the narrow trade interests"

This is to be welcomed and here in the UK we hope our authorities will also put infant health above the commercial interests of the baby food industry as our legislation is up for revision.

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