Monday, June 30, 2008

Breastfeeding experts quit at Canadian hospital over Nestlé 'wine-and-dine' event

I wrote recently about baby food company sponsorship and concerns over conflicts of interest. The World Health Assembly has adopted Resolutions calling for care in this area. See:

An example of company sponsorship and its fallout comes from Canada. It was reported last week that Renee Hefti-Graham and Linda Good both quit their jobs as breastfeeding experts at Burnaby General Hospital this month after: "an invitation circulated through the hospital's e-mail system to a Nestlé-sponsored "wine-and-dine" event to be held June 12."

You might think that a 'wine-and-dine' event is designed to attract health workers and put them in a sympathetic mood for the company reps. to pitch to them. Not at all, it seems. According to the report on "Company spokeswoman Catherine O'Brien said yesterday that the formula maker is not in violation of the WHO code because the event was created solely to provide 'science-based information.'"

The same story is repeated around the world. In our recent campaign in support of the Philippines, we exposed Nestlé giving gifts to health workers and labelling its formula with claims about it aiding the development of intelligence and vision. Independent analysis by the Cochrane library shows such claims (about LCPs) are not supported by the evidence. So much for 'science-based information' from Nestlé.

In India, where the law prohibits baby food companies sponsoring health-worker events, Nestlé still tries to get away with it, showing how the importance Nestlé puts on ingratiating itself with people seen as independent my mothers. For example, in 2006 it it sponsored a music night for medical graduates at BRD Medical College, Gorakhpur. Presumably a 'science-based' music night? As professional associations are refusing baby-food-company sponsorship (the Indian Paediatric Association did so long before the law came in), Nestlé has taken to holding its own events and trying to persuade paediatricians to attend. See:

The breastfeeding experts resigned in Canada as they felt they did not have support from their boss, according to the report: "She doesn't understand the issues," said Hefti-Graham. "She called [the materials I brought her] propaganda . . . and I've been working in this field for 20 years. I cannot work with a manager who tells me that the information I give her is propaganda."

It is a strange world where wining and dining can end up being portrayed as providing 'science-based information' and information from breastfeeding experts as propaganda. But it is the world in which we live, which is why the care over conflicts of interest suggested by the World Health Assembly is so important. And so, sometimes, is taking a stand.

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