Monday, November 03, 2008

Latest victory gets us nowhere

This is a recurring story. Brazil has one of the most effective systems regulating baby food marketing and breastfeeding rates have increased markedly over the past 20 years - median duration has gone from less than three months to ten months. Rates had declined drastically after Nestle entered Brazil a century ago. Now the main concerns are targeting of health workers and the promotion of whole milks, which are used by a high proportion of poor mothers who don't breastfeed instead of infant formula. We have exposed how Nestlé promotes its Nido whole milk in the infant feeding sections of pharmacies and supermarkets, a practice it refuses to stop, arguing it is not against the regulations. See:

Whole milks do require a warning that they should not be used for infant feeding. Repeatedly this has been challenged in the Congress and Senate by representatives allied to the dairy industry. It is pretty disgraceful that the desire for profits is so great that the industry is prepared to pursue sales through misuse of the product. The text has already been weakened slightly, with the heading "Ministry of Health Warning" changed to "Ministry of Health Information" - you may have supported our campaign last year which persuaded the Senate to reverse this change, only for the Congress to reinstate it. See:

Over the past few months the issue has come up again, with a move to weaken the text further still, if not remove it altogether. Our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Brazil asked for letters of support that could be used by representatives in the Congress to oppose the dairy industry's politicians. IBFAN groups from around the world sent letters. I wrote on behalf of Baby Milk Action. You can find the letters here:

The good news is that on 29 October the move to weaken the text further was defeated!

Now this shows the need to be eternally vigilant because the industry does not give up. It also shows that campaigning works.

But it also illustrates the difficulty that we and our partners face in protecting infant health.

An international mobilization was necessary to protect mothers and babies. Without this effort, the industry would have won, inappropriate use of whole milk would likely have become even more common and infants would have become sick and some died due to the greed of the milk companies. But we won, meaning the situation is unchanged - the warnings remain as an important step in stopping inappropriate use of whole milk.

Now when we try to fundraise for our work we have a problem because most funders are not focused on tackling root causes of problems. It is hard to raise money for enforcing the baby food marketing requirements, because money is directed at treating babies once they are sick or at interventions that deal with mothers and babies directly.

It is harder still to raise money for the action we have to take to stop the industry weakening the measures already won. Funders like targets and to see them met. In this particular case, there is no progress. We have simply stopped something bad from happening.

It is a tribute to everyone involved in the campaign that we are not only able to stop the extremely-well-resourced industry from weakening measures, but on many fronts are achieving new, stronger regulations and having them enforced. The support from members of the public, both financially and in sending letters, is vital for this.

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