Monday, December 03, 2007

eDemocracy in action in the UK - or perhaps not

A while ago I signed a petition on the Number 10 website. This is a great system that has been introduced by the government in the UK, where people can create petitions, invite people to sign and prompt a response from our leaders. On Thursday we will have the opportunity to participate in another approach to eDemocracy by putting questions to the Secretary of State for Health, who will be taking part in a live web chat as I explain below.

The petition created by Rachel Coleman Finch was similar to an Early Day Motion one of the MPs who supports our campaign put forward. You can find further information on the Parliamentary Campaign in our press release at:

You can read it with the government's response at:

The petition stated:

---Quote begins
According to a government survey, 34% of mothers in the UK incorrectly believe that formula is the same or almost the same as breastfeeding.

Regulations already exist (The Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995) outlawing marketing and labelling which implies formula is the same or almost the same as breastfeeding. They are currently being broken by most formula manufacturers in the UK.

Mothers have a right to know the truth about the differences between formula feeding and breastfeeding, in order to make an informed decision about feeding their baby. Aggressive marketing by the formula manufacturers undermines this.

The existing law should be properly enforced, including bringing prosecutions against any company currently breaking it.
---quote ends

We could add it is not just the difference between formula and breastfeeding that parents need objective, independent information about, but the differences between formulas. The information from the companies is misleading and idealising, as you realise when you look at claims as to which formula is the best. The government response to the petition stated:

---Quote begins
The Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services and the relevant enforcement authorities have met to discuss the actions that are being taken on the use of claims in relation to infant formula. As a result of this meeting, the major manufacturers of infant formula have been reminded of their legal responsibilities with particular regard to compositional claims and discussions are currently underway to discuss how full compliance with the appropriate legislation can be achieved.

The FSA recently consulted on a draft revision of the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations which propose further to clarify the rules relating to the use of claims and to restrict the advertising of infant formula. The FSA is exploring ways to make the new regulations as clear as possible. The FSA will consult publicly on draft guidance which will accompany the new regulations and will provide further guidance to industry and enforcement authorities on how to interpret the new regulations including the labelling and advertising restrictions.
---quote ends

Well hurrah, discussions are underway about how company compliance with a law introduced in 1995 will be achieved. Let us hope for some progress soon. There was applause around the world when the FSA launched a crackdown on illegal claims, but it has swiftly faded as there has been no follow through when companies have introduced labels that are, in some ways, worse than before (see the global monitoring report launched last week).

And hurrah, the Food Standards Agency did indeed consult on a draft revision of the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations. But the answer doesn't report that the FSA then refused to act on the recommendations of its own expert advisors, such as the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and LACORS (the umbrella body for Trading Standards, who will have to enforce the regulations). Nor on the advice of independent experts.

In its response to the report from the Baby Feeding Law Group, representing UK health worker and mother support groups, called "Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula", the government suggested its hands were tied by the European Union, but it would pursue some of the proposals (such as improved information for those who use formula) in a voluntary agreement with the formula companies. As I have noted before, companies have so far demonstrated their unwillingness to comply voluntarily - and Hipp has dismissed the FSA guidance to parents (see our company telephone 'careline' spot monitoring). The government's approach was not viewed as very satisfactory by health advocates. See our press release:

So the consultation and petition on the Downing Street website give the appearance of consulting experts and the public, but do not appear to result in any changes to the pro-industry line of the government. It is perhaps not surprising that the industry body welcomed the proposed regulations and accompanying guidance notes now out for consultation. See:

Perhaps putting a question to Alan Johnson MP, the Secretary of State for Health, will help raise the profile of the need for long overdue regulation of the formula companies.

There will be a web chat on Thursday 6 December from 17:00. You can submit questions in advance and I encourage you to do so. See:

Then let us log in to see if the response acknowledges the need for action. As I wrote last week, the UK is shamed in a new global monitoring report for its failure to implement the marketing requirements. See our press release at:

This is what I have asked:

The Government has responded to the consultation on the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (conducted by the Food Standards Agency), indicating it will not act on the recommendations of its own Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and LACORS (representing Trading Standards officers) and the health worker organisations and mother support groups that form the Baby Feeding Law Group and Breastfeeding Manifesto Coalition.

As Mr. Johnson professes to support the notion of preventative health care why is the Government not taking action such as ensuring those parents who use formula have the independent information they need to understand the differences between what is on the market and how to reduce risk of possible contamination of powdered formula with harmful bacteria? This and other recommendations were included in the BFLG submission "Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula" which advocated implementation of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for breastmilk substitutes as many other countries have done.

The more people who raise this issue, the more likely Mr. Johnson is to reply. So do pop along to:


Anonymous said...

This is what I have asked:

The government is committed to breastfeeding as the normal human way to feed infants. However, its efforts to promote and support breastfeeding come up against the money and might of the formula milk industry.
The Food Standards Agency has recently released its finalised regulations for the sale and promotion of infant and follow-on formula milks. The formula milk industry bent and broke the previous regulations and are likely to do so again.
Can you explain how the FSA's weak regulations demonstrate the government's commitment to breastfeeding?


Anonymous said...

Here's the man himself on YouTube inviting us to leave him a question!