Friday, December 14, 2007

Proposed UK law: please try again

If you sent a message to the UK Secretary of State for Health and Minister for Public Health recently calling for it to strengthen formula marketing regulations in line with international standards, then you may have received a reply. Though not from the Ministers, but civil servants at the Food Standards Agency. Getting a response from Ministers is a little more difficult. Even if you have sent a message already, please send another now as the response from the Food Standards Agency is just not good enough. You can do so easily at:

We need to re-enforce the message we are sending to the decision makers to persuade them to look more closely at this issue and take action. When Alan Johnson MP, the Secretary of State for Health, was asked in a live webchat last week why the regulations resulting from the consultation do not implement the World Health Assembly market requirements and specifically why the government is not proposing to take action protect parents who use formula, he did not answer the question. See:

I wrote yesterday that it seems an unwarranted fear of the government that the European Commission is an obstacle to action. Yet other countries both within and outside Europe are prepared to face a legal challenge should it be necessary to protect their citizens' rights - and have won. See:

Glenys Kinnock MEP, a veteran campaigner for mothers and babies, wrote to Gordon Brown encouraging him to give a lead and sharing her detailed understanding of the European Union. She said:

---extract begins
The implementation of this legislation into UK law marks an excellent opportunity to go further than the minimum standards set out in the Directive 2006/141/EC, which, despite UK efforts to strengthen it, is still widely regarded as not going far enough. There is huge potential to use this opportunity to strengthen UK policy on this issue and to bring it in line with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. However, any decision to go further than the directive would require your intervention and support.

As you know, EU Directives are binding as to the result to be achieved by the Member States to which they are directed, however it remains up to the national authorities to decide upon the means and form of implementation used in order to realise the Community objective set out in the directive. Inherently, therefore, there is scope for discretion left to Member States and there exist a range of options for implementation of Directives. I hope that you will agree therefore that the implementation of the legislation is not required to mirror exactly the original wording of the directive.
---extract ends

However, following the 12-week consultation which saw unaminous support amongst health advocates for stronger measures, including from the government's own advisors, the response to the consultation suggest no change from the original weak proposals. There is a promise to issue 'guidance notes' to address some of the concerns, but without force of law these may be shown the same contempt as the International Code, which companies are also called on to abide by independently of legislation.

The letter you may have received from the Food Standards Agency tries to put a brave face on the weak proposals, talking up the changes since the 1995 version of the regulations. Specifically the FSA states :

---extract begins
These new provisions will offer increased consumer protection compared to the previous Regulations as they:
  • update compositional requirements, in line with the most recent advice from pan-European independent scientific experts;
  • update labelling rules clarifying that follow-on formula should only be used by infants from six months of age (the current Regulations specify that follow-on formula can be used from four months);
  • clarify that only a small number of specific health and nutrition claims can be used on infant formulae;
  • lay down a new national notification requirement for infant formulae which will allow EC countries to monitor the marketing of new infant formulae more effectively (no such provision exists in the current legislation);
  • prohibit the advertising of infant formula directly to the public;
---extract ends

It was because of the pressing need to introduce the improved compositional requirements, which we worked for, that the Directive was signed off by Member States without a further battle by concerned Member States for improving other aspects of it. But the Directive does not prevent governments from taking further action to protect health, in line with the International Code, specifically referenced by the Directive.

The recommendations of the Baby Feeding Law Group, the coalition of UK health worker and mother support groups, are contained in the report 'Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula' available at:

Significant differences between the minimal action proposed by the government and the recommendations of the BFLG, endorsed by the Breastfeeding Manifesto Coalition, a broader grouping still include the following.

The government limits the regulations on marketing and health claims to infant formula, instead of applying them to all breastmilk substitutes, which includes follow-on formula.

The proposals do not require companies to warn parents that powdered formula is not sterile and the simple steps to reduce the risks from possible contamination with harmful bacteria.

There is no prohibition on companies targeting parents directly or promoting websites and company telephone 'carelines', used to promote products which cannot be advertised more conventionally. We have conducted spot monitoring which shows these idealize products and misadvise parents on preparation.

There is no requirement for new ingredients to be approved before being added to formula - companies only have to submit a label in the case of infant formula and there are no controls on follow-on formula.

See the full list of BFLG recommendations in the submission or on the Baby Feeding Law Group website.

The draft regulations are to go to Parliament, apparently unchanged following the consultation, very soon. You can send a last message to the Ministers asking them to reconsider before doing so. Please do send this message even if you sent a message before. Indeed, if you did send a message before you can add a note saying you find the response disappointing or unacceptable. See:

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