Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Will the ASA do anything about Cow & Gate's bottle feeding advertisement?

Here are a couple of screen shots of the Cow & Gate advertisement I wrote about yesterday. We have reported this to the UK Advertising Standards Authority.

As you can see it is promoting bottle feeding with the suggestion that this provides key nutrients for healthy digestion and strengthened natural defences. The advertisement does not mention that a child fed on formula is more likely to suffer from gastro-enteritis, respiratory infections and other illnesses than a breastfed child.

The small print says that the product 'is not a breast milk substitute'. But what is a feeding bottle and teat if not a substitute breast?

The product shown is a follow-on milk. Breastfeeding is recommended not just for 6 months, the age at which companies encourage parents to start using follow-on milk, but beyond this. Follow-on milk replaces that part of the diet best provided by breastmilk and so is a breastmilk substitute covered by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The Code prohibits the advertising of such products.

The advertisement shows a pack shot for the 3rd milk in the Cow & Gate range. The infant formula in the range is branded in the same way, so the advertisement is cross promotional. It also directs people to a website where the full range is advertised. The advertisement is also on the Cow & Gate website.

The UK law is weaker than the International Code and allows the advertising of follow-on milks. However Article 11.3 of the Code calls on companies to abide by its provisions independently of government measures. Danone, which now owns NUMICO (parent of Nutricia, Milupa and Cow & Gate), said earlier this year that it is conducting a 'root and branch review' of marketing activities, following its purchase. On present evidence there is no change to policies or practices.

Without some sign of action in the coming months, particularly in developing countries where NUMICO is also aggressive, Danone may well find itself the target of a consumer campaign.

The Guidance Notes to the UK law have something to say about follow-on formla advertising. Some extracts:

47... Read together, the aims of these regulations are to ensure that consumers recognise that advertisements for follow-on formula relate exclusively to products for older babies and not infant formula. Such advertisements should not promote, either directly or indirectly, infant formula, or formula milks/bottle-feeding in general. (regulations 18, 19 and 22).

48. In order to achieve compliance, companies will therefore need to ensure that formula advertising does not:
• promote a range of formula products by making the brand the focus of the advert, rather than specific products (e.g. where specific products are mentioned only in a footnote or in a picture of a tin of formula within the advertisement)...
• focus primarily on the promotion of ingredients, or the effect of ingredients, which are common to both follow-on formula and infant formula...

There are other provisions requiring the labelling and branding of infant formula and follow-on formula to be different, which are also being breached.

But will the ASA do anything? Past experience is not good. The ASA cleared an advertisement for Wyeth/SMA formula at the end of last year and we continue to receive reports of it being shown. See:

That case is featured in the report we prepared for the government's review of the effectiveness of the regulations, alongside other practices which we believe break the regulations.

You can find the report on the Baby Feeding Law Group website, which we maintain, along with links to the regulations. See:

Donations to help with our monitoring work, which is currently unfunded and has to be done mainly in staff spare time, are very welcome.

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