Thursday, January 28, 2010

A tale of two logos: The Fairtrade mark added to KitKat while Nestlé tells mothers its formula will 'protect' their babies

The Independent newspaper has picked up a quote from me in an article today on "The great KitKat debate: is it fair?" See:

They invite comments, so feel free to give your views.

For the concerns over the way Nestlé is using the Fairtrade mark to divert criticism of unethical business practices, such as its pushing of baby milk, see my past blogs, such as:

It is ironic that as the Fairtrade logo appears on Nestlé KitKats, we continue to campaign for Nestlé to remove a logo from its infant formula labels that claims Nestlé formula 'protects' babies. It does not - babies fed on it are more likely to become ill than breastfed babies and, in conditions of poverty, to die. You can send a message to Nestlé about this via our Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet, which shows a tin from Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries:

While Nestlé is gaining worldwide publicity, much of it good, for its decision to source 1% of its cocoa from farmers within the Fairtrade scheme, Green and Black's has today announced it is going 100% Fairtrade. See:

US Fair Trade organisations have said they think far more should have been demanded of Nestlé, particularly as it has failed to deliver on its promise to end child slavery in its cocoa supply chain by 2006. See:

While we have added Fairtrade KitKat to the Nestlé boycott list, that does not mean we are anti-Fairtrade. Indeed, Fairtrade fortnight is coming up in the UK from 22 February to 7 March. You can find ideas to support it at:

If you are planning a stall or event, then feel free to contact Baby Milk Action for leaflets explaining why Nestlé Fairtrade KitKat is on our boycott list.

We need all the help we can get to stop practices such as Nestlé telling mothers around the world that its formula will 'protect' their babies. According to UNICEF: "Improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year."

We have tried to enlist the help of the UN Global Compact Office and the offices responsible for overseeing the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, but they are unprepared to do anything other than encourage us to 'dialogue' with Nestlé. We have been in 'dialogue' with Nestlé for decades and what we have learned is that Nestlé acts when it is pressure or shamed, particularly if it believes its profits and its image (which impacts on its profits) will be harmed.

So please do consider sending a message to Nestlé and reminding friends and colleagues of Nestlé malpractice. The launch of Fairtrade KitKat presents an ideal opportunity.

Nestlé spends millions on trying to improve its image. But with your help we are able to put the other side of the story into the national press, as with the article in The Independent today.

You might also like to consider becoming a member of Baby Milk Action, if you are not already, or sending us a donation. See:


Rob A said...

Grrrr. Tried to leave an acerbic and insightful comment on the Independent, but LiveJournal defeated me.

Hope this gets more coverage in the media.

Unknown said...

I totally agree with your baby formula point. But the reason why Kit kat changed was becase a group of farmers in Côte d'Ivoire had been certified Fairtrade but couldn't find any buyers. The Fairtrade Labelling organisation found out they were suppling Kit Kat. Then they asked kit Kat to pay the Fairtrade price and abide by all the other Fairtrade standards. Its important that people remain vigilant in the face of company greenwashing but it is also important that those farmers recieve a fair price. Fairtrade is only an example that an alternative way of trading is possible, its a small spet in the right direction. thanks for keeping this issue on the agenda, as long people like you are around Nestle wont be able to wash it's self clean with the Fairtrade mark.

Valerie W. McClain said...

Nestle tells mothers its formula will 'protect' their babies because it owns a US patent called, "Soluble toll-like receptor (patent # 7230078." This patent was filed in 2002. Its about their "surprising discovery" that a human milk component they call Soluble toll-like receptor (sTLRR)is part of the innate immune system and is the reason that breastfeeding protects a baby's immune system. They will be using this human milk component in foods, pharmaceuticals, and infant formula. It seems likely that the component is genetically engineered. Although there is a joint partnership between UC Davis, Prolacta, Nestle, US government agencies, and various dairy organizations, so it might be the real component. The US FDA considers that which is genetically engineered to be identical to the real thing. What Nestle has done is add "a" human milk component or genetically engineered human milk component to their infant formula. Are they speaking truth as they know it? Human milk research is tied to the infant formula industry. The patenting of human milk components by the infant formula industry presents enormous challenges to those who advocate for breastfeeding. Of course, advocates have to first recognize that this has happened.

Mike Brady said...

Thanks for your comment, Valerie, but the logo doesn't relate to this polypeptide, but Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids.

The review that Nestlé itself has referenced to try to support similar claims describing these as 'brain building blocks' and being important for brain and eye development, actually has the title (which Nestlé did not give): "The role of polyunsaturated fatty acids in term and preterm infants and breastfeeding mothers." This states: "many studies have demonstrated advantages of breastfeeding versus formula-feeding on subsequent cognitive and visual function". Regarding the supposed benefits of adding LCPUFAs to formula, the paper urges caution over studies suggesting some early effects: Although one logically may assume that these early effects may have long-term effects, this
assumption is not warranted by the available data.

I presume you are unfamiliar with our safer formula campaign - because we work to improve composition of formula so want to see ingredient added if there are benefits. LCPs and other ingredients, such as those marketed as prebiotics, have no proven benefits and are not required ingredients for this reason.

Even if toll-like receptors are added to formula and had a benefit, this would not justify promoting it as providing 'protection' considering that babies fed on it are still more likely to become sick than breastfed babies and in poor conditions - such as where Nestlé has rolled out this strategy - are more likely to die.


Valerie W. McClain said...

Safer infant formula campaign? Infant formula is always a risk. I am surprised and dismayed by your campaign.

I thought or assumed that the Nestle formula you were writing about was the new generation of formulas...Nestle's NAN with Protect Start. This formula has DHA and ARA but also probiotics and "comfort" proteins (comfort proteins could be sTLR's). Almost all formulas are genetically engineered. Proof of safety (particularly long-term) in genetically engineered substances does not exist.

Mike Brady said...

Valerie, you say you are dismayed that we are campaigning to make formula safer.

Are you saying you would prefer the health of formula-fed babies to be even more prejudiced than it is?

There is no contradiction between protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding AND working for formula to be marketed appropriately and be as safe as possible. This is the aim of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and the Codex Alimentarius standards.

Regarding Nestlé formula with the 'protect' logos, we have analysed and exposed the bogus claims relating to the highlighted ingredients, with reference to independent reviews of the science. There is no basis for these claims. And there is no basis for claiming formula 'protects' even if a change in formulation did reduce the negative impact on health compared to another formula.