Thursday, November 29, 2007

Global report shames UK for lack of follow through on health claims crackdown

Now to the UK's shameful performance. I wrote yesterday about the new monitoring report from the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) which shows that Nesté continues widespread, systematic violations of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods. Though the boycott has been instrumental in closing down some practices, such as promoting complementary foods from too early an age in many countries, new strategies have emerged, particularly the medicalisation of infant feeding and promotion of formula with idealizing health claims.

The good news is that some countries are taking action. The Philippines, thanks to an international campaign of support, is prohibiting health claims such as Nestlé's 'brain building blocks' boast about ingredients in its Nestogen infant formula.

Earlier this year the UK was applauded around the world for cracking down on health claims on labels of infant formula in the UK. There was international publicity for the move by the Food Standards Agency to finally enforce the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995 which only allow claims specified in the law to be used, if certain conditions are satisfied. We recognised the letters that the FSA sent to the companies reminding them of the law introduced 12 years before, as a significant advance. See:

But as I have tracked on this blog and we have reported in our newsletter, companies may have changed labels as a result, but they continue to use claims that are not on the permitted list and are getting away with it.

The Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2007 report acknowledges the action by the UK authorities, but notes that the new labels produced by the likes of Wyeth/SMA and NUMICO (owner of Milupa and Cow & Gate) are, in some ways, worse. Indeed, the profile on Wyeth highlights the new SMA labels in the UK as particularly scandalous. See:

Click on the image for a larger version if you cannot read its message: "From bad to worse".

Now it may well be that action will be taken over this label by the enforcement authorities. We have certainly complained vociferously about the way Wyeth and other companies have demonstrated their contempt for the regulations. But the wheels turn slowly and 9 months on from the launch of these labels onto the market, no visible action has been taken. My view is the companies should be prosecuted.

It does not bode well for the proposed new regulations which the government is suggesting will be made to work through 'robust guidelines' if companies can show contempt for the existing legislation and get away with it.

The Baby Feeding Law Group report Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula, submitted to the government consultation stressed that clear implementation of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements in binding legislation is needed, not narrower measures in guidelines. See:

The UK was applauded at the beginning of the year for the crackdown on health claims. The lack of follow through has led to it being shamed in a global report that suggests companies have been permitted to go from bad to worse.

The world will continue to watch to see whether the government will rectify the situation by enforcing existing regulations and strenghtening them to close loopholes.

At the moment the signs do not look good. You can send a message to the Ministers responsible at:

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