Friday, March 07, 2008

Lancet article on protecting infant health in the Philippines

The new issue of the Lancet has an article about the struggle to protect infants and mothers from the aggressive marketing practices and lobbying pressure of the baby food industry.

It is written by Rene R Raya, Action for Economic Reforms, which describes itself as "an independent policy research and advocacy group. In the past 5 years, Action for Economic Reforms received grants from: Christian Aid, Oxfam, WHO, Frederich Ebert Stiftung, and the EU."

The article begins:

---extract begins
Scientists and policy makers have declared, urged, and exhorted countries to exert every effort to increase breastfeeding rates. 25 years of scientific evidence have accrued since the signing of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in 1981, as illustrated by the Lancet Child Survival series in 2003 and many declarations, agreements, and resolutions adopted at World Health Assemblies and WHO/UNICEF meetings. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has warned that powdered infant-formula is not a sterile product.

In the Philippines, breastfeeding advocates welcomed the long-awaited ruling of the Supreme Court, which lifted on Oct 9, 2007, and with few changes, the temporary restraining order on the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations (RIRR) of the Milk Code (1986). While the ruling did not support a total ban on advertising of breastmilk substitutes, it affirmed most of the provisions of the RIRR, including the right of the Department of Health to regulate and decide on: advertising materials; expansion of the coverage of the Milk Code to infants beyond 12 months; new labelling requirements stating that infant-formula may contain patho genic microorganisms and other health warnings; and prohibition of all health and nutrition claims for products within the scope of the Milk Code.
---extract ends

Here's the summary of industry pressure against the regulations as in the Lancet:

---extract begins
The ruling concluded nearly 3 years of legal battle that started with the strengthening of the implementation of the Milk Code in response to the rapid decline of breastfeeding. In the last quarter of 2004, the Department of Health crafted a national plan and updated the RIRR to align it with international standards. This effort met opposition from the industry, which mounted pressure against the Secretary of Health and his undersecretaries through meetings. The industry warned the US Embassy in Manila and the US regional trade attaché that the RIRR would negatively affect trade. The International Infant Formula Council wrote to UNICEF to complain about UNICEF activities in the Philippines that promoted breastfeeding. Industry representatives prompted congressional hearings and extracted the RIRR from the Committee on Health to the Committee on Trade. They wrote letters to Congress and the President of the Republic.
---extract ends

Your messages of solidarity with the Philippines showed the world was watching and helped to put the issue on the front pages in the Philippines and into the media around the world.

For my reminder of what it took to defend the regulations see my blog:

Eventually the Supreme Court ruled in favour of protecting health over commercial interests, stating: "The framers of the constitution were well aware that trade must be subjected to some form of regulation for the public good. Public interest must be upheld over business interests".

You can access the Lancet article at:

You will have to take out a free registration to access it.

Now the regulations need to be enforced. An independent committee is tasked with authorising all materials before they are used.

They are regulating a well-resourced sector. According to the Lancet article: "Nearly $100 million is spent annually on the advertising of breastmilk substitutes, which is about half the annual budget for the Department of Health."

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