Wednesday, February 28, 2007

UN Rapporteur 'appalled' about Philippines case

The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) is on the cutting-edge of holding some of the world's largest and most powerful transnational corporations to account. Our work on human rights and infant feeding comes to mind with a damning statement issued by the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food about the Philippines case.

We are proud to be the UK member of IBFAN. Part of the reason for IBFAN's success in stopping malpractice and saving infant lives, is because evaluating our strategies is built into how we operate. While continuing with what we know to work, we also look to innovate and use new opportunities. We need to learn and adapt, because the industry we are seeking to regulate adapts and, at present, is fundamentally opposed to changing its practices unless compelled to do so. It puts its own profits first.

We have not achieved total success in all countries partly because of resource limitations, but mainly because of the nature of the baby food industry and its leading players, particularly Nestlé. See my past blog for a reminder at:

An opportunity that IBFAN has been an innovator in spotting and utilising, is the human rights approach to protecting infant and young child health. Our partner in Switzerland, the Geneva Infant Feeding Association (GIFA), has led the way in using the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). GIFA supports national IBFAN groups in including infant feeding issues in the civil society reports - the so-called "alternative reports", that go to the Committee overseeing the Convention. Every year the Committee reviews approximately 27 countries; each signatory country is reviewed every five years. All countries in the world, with the exception of the USA and Somalia, have ratified the CRC and therefore are reviewed by the CRC Committee.

Baby Milk Action has followed GIFA's guidance, submitting comments to the reports prepared by Save the Children. As a direct result, in 2002 the Committee called on the UK Government to implement the baby food marketing requirements in legislation. Current laws are far too narrow and weak. See:

We have since built stronger links with human rights bodies ourselves and included a human rights approach in our campaigning. I was delighted to be able to report on the letter sent by the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food sent to the Philippines UN representative last year. See:

The strong comments in support of the Philippines Government have now been reiterated in a press release on the UN Human Rights Commission website, which I include below. This could be critically important.

Thanks to campaigning action, the Philippines Government now knows it is not alone in facing the pressure from the baby food industry and the US Chamber of Commerce. It knows that whatever the industry may tell it, its efforts to implement World Health Assembly marketing requirements are not unreasonable. Indeed, they are required by its human rights obligations.

Importantly for us, our partners on the ground - health workers, mothers and their families - who began this campaign of defending the regulations - see their efforts paying off. This is now an issue of global concern. See:

It remains to be seen if this, and events still to come, will be sufficient to save the regulations introduced by the Philippines Governments. What you can be sure of is IBFAN will evaluate what happens carefully, to learn for the next time. Unfortunately, it is certain there will be a next time. This is the voice of experience talking.

Here is the UN press release. See:


26 February 2007

Jean Ziegler, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, issued the following statement today. Ziegler is an independent expert appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr. Jean Ziegler, is deeply concerned about the current media campaign supporting breastmilk substitutes, organized by the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). This commercial campaign, appearing in some of the Philippines's top newspapers is, according to the Special Rapporteur, misleading, deceptive, and malicious in intent.

Mr. Ziegler is concerned that the content of this campaign's materials manipulate data emanating from UN specialized agencies such as WHO and UNICEF, as well as the Filipino Department of Health, with the sole purpose to protect the milk companies' huge profits, regardless of the best interest of Filipino mothers and children. He also expressed his disappointment on the irresponsible and unethical behavior of some medical practitioners and organizations, which have lent themselves to support these companies' selfish interest. The aggressive marketing practices by milk companies contribute to misleading the public by claiming that breastfeeding can not be done by a majority of women and that their products raise healthy, smart, and happy babies.

In 2003 the WHO estimated that 16,000 children under the age of 5 died in the Philippines as a result of improper feeding practices including infant formula. Today, only 16 per cent of children at four to five months of age are exclusively breastfed and 13% of infants are not breastfed at all.

In July 2006, after several years of consultation with industry and community groups, UNICEF and the WHO, the Filipino Department of Health introduced strict regulations in order to implement the 1986 Milk Code. The new regulation includes a ban on the advertising and promotion of milk substitutes for children up to two years old, with an absolute ban on false health and nutritional claims. However, represented by PHAP, the milk companies, appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that the new regulation to implement the Milk Code constituted a restraint on freedom of trade. As a result, the Supreme Court granted a temporary restraining order that is still in effect to date.

The Special Rapporteur reiterates his support to the Government's stand in relation to the regulation to implement the Milk Code and counts on the wisdom of the Filipinos and international organizations to oppose the manipulative and deceptive tactics of milk companies who are guided by their interests and profits. He urges the companies to acknowledge their social corporate responsibility and to take all necessary measures to review their marketing practices related to breast milk substitutes. The Special Rapporteur also appeals to medical practitioners to abide by the ethical rules required by their profession.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Nestlé offensive in Fair Trade fortnight

Fair Trade fortnight has just begun.

Last year I was interviewed around this time for a BBC Money Programme special on Fair Trade and the controversy over Nestlé being awarded a Fairtrade mark for its Partners' Blend brand of coffee. This was an opportunity to raise the boycott and its baby food marketing malpractice.

From our experience we were also able to predict how Nestlé would use the award to try to undermine the boycott and generally divert attention of its shameful business practices.

So it proved, with a mass media advertising campaign in which the company used its one and only Fair Trade product to suggest it was taking the initiative on improving the lives of coffee farmers. Yet only 0.1% of farmers dependent on Nestlé were involved in the product and the rest suffer downward pressure on prices because of the aggressive trading practices of Nestlé and the rest of the oligarchy of coffee processors.

For our analysis of the situation, comments from other organisations and our monitoring of how Nestlé has used the Fair Trade mark in its PR campaigns, see the Your Questions Answered entry on our website at

It is also worth remembering that Nestlé is in court in the US over child slavery in its cocoa supply chain. Nestlé has the possibility of buying cocoa through the Fair Trade system in Ivory Coast, but refuses to do so, meaning certified farms are having to sell on the open market, where Nestlé picks up the cocoa at a lower price. You can hear a sound bite and full interview with Bama Athreya of the International Labor Rights Fund at:

Sure enough Nestlé is on the offensive again this year. And this is your opportunity to expose Nestlé baby food marketing malpractice and promote the boycott, while also supporting genuine Fair Trade companies.

We have a special version of our 'Ten Facts' leaflet which includes the Fair Trade issue. This is easy to photocopy and can be downloaded by clicking

Look out for opportunities to contact the media, too. I have just sent an email to the news desk of the Saga radio station in response to it teaming up with Nestlé.

You can send your own message, via this site:

This is what I said:

How absurd that you have teamed up with Nestlé to promote Fair Trade Fortnight. This is the most boycotted company in the UK over its unethical baby milk marketing and this is an attempt by Nestlé to undermine the boycott. This is a company that has just one product out of 8,500 that is Fair Trade. It's Partners' Blend coffee involves just 0.1% of the coffee farmers dependent on Nestlé - the rest see their incomes cut as Nestlé and the oligarch of coffee processors force prices down. Nestlé is in court in the US over child slavery in its cocoa supply chain - its defence is that child slavery is not a crime against humanity so it should not be taken to court. Find out more on the Baby Milk Action website and support genuine Fair Trade companies, not those who are trying to divert attention from their shameful business practices.

Please keep Baby Milk Action informed of any other Nestlé PR initiatives you come across, using our contact form.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Breastfeeding censored by Myspace

News reaches me of a campaign by a mother on Myspace who had a breastfeeding picture removed from her site by the moderators.

They said: “We can't have certain kinds of pics (nude/sexually suggestive photos, violent images, etc.) on the site. Our site is an all-ages site, and we have users as young as 14, so all images must be PG rated. If you continue to violate our policies, we may be forced to remove your account.”

Before we get too irate, let’s note that it is brilliant that Myspace takes its duty of care for children seriously in vetting all images posted on the site. With the site so popular there must be a great deal to check and their checking system may not show the picture in context. So this standard email could have been fired off with a knee-jerk click (if such a thing exists), by a busy employee who saw some bare flesh.

Let’s hope so.

My blog appears on the blogger site and Myspace. So here is a little test. Pictures from our 2007 breastfeeding calendar. This is bought by health trusts for display in clinics, as well as supporters and members of the general public, so we can safely say the images are not only PG, but U (universal).

If you want them without the copyright notices, you need to buy our calendar, which is available in our on-line Virtual Shop.

January 2007 picture


February 2007 picture

February 2007

March 2007 picture

March 2007

April 2007 picture

April 2007

May 2007 picture

May 2007

June 2007 picture

June 2007

July 2007 picture

July 2007

August 2007 picture

August 2007

September 2007 picture


October 2007 picture

October 2007

November 2007 picture

November 2007

December 2007 picture

December 2007

Friday, February 23, 2007

Media studies in the Philippines

Part of the reason our partners in the Philippines call for international help in defending the government’s regulations for the marketing of baby foods, is that it is difficult for journalists there to run stories that are critical of big advertisers.

We have documented how television stations have been threatened in the past with the loss of Nestlé advertising for reporting on concerns over its marketing and referring to the Nestlé boycott.

We have strategies that work to break through the wall of silence. Your messages of support and the celebrity endorsements we have received have made front page stories in the Philippines. A few days ago a demonstration by our partners was also picked up in a national paper. See:

However, it is an unequal struggle. While it is difficult for campaigners to gain coverage, the baby food companies are simply paying for advertising space arguing that mothers need ‘information’ on infant formula. They gain both coverage that campaigners find difficult to achieve AND give the media another financial reason not to upset them.

One article is addressed to ‘Dear Mothers’ and says breastfeeding is best, but mothers need information on infant formula for when they cannot breastfeed.

The advertisement list includes things like if the mother has a breast or nipple problem or cannot provide enough milk. These are cases where a mother needs independent advice from a health worker or mother-support network, because with support such problems can be overcome. The cause is usually due to poor latch on which a mother can correct with experienced help.

The companies prey on these problems and build up a mothers fears in their ‘information’ materials. As in these advertisements, they present formula as the solution if a mother has difficulties, not support for breastfeeding.

The World Health Assembly International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes gives responsibility for advising parents to health workers and prohibits companies from advertising, other forms of promotion or seeking direct or indirect contact with mothers.

As the companies state in their advertisement, there is a legitimate market for infant formula. There will be times when they are necessary. Marketing restrictions do not stop formula from being sold. They stop the promotion and require labels to have accurate and clear instructions and warnings. This is to benefit all mothers. The argument from the companies is a bogus one, but because they pay for the advertising space, they are given prominence.

In this reality, we must be grateful to the journalists and editors who have given space to the health advocates side of the issue. But for whatever reason, some newspapers have run articles defending formula promotion, even misrepresenting the position of UNICEF.

A paper had to publish a response from the UNICEF Representative in the Philippines last month after running an article claiming ‘UNICEF reports’ cited the Philippines as having breastfeeding rates amongst the highest in the world. A couple of key facts from Dr. Nicholas Alipui:

* 19-20 percent of under 5 deaths or 16,000 deaths in the Philippines could be prevented by appropriate infant and young child feeding.

* The national Demographic Health Survey 2003 shows an increased incidence of diarrhoea among children from 7 percent (1998) to 11 percent (2003) as the exclusive breastfeeding rates in the country declined from 20 percent (1998) to 16.5 percent (2003).

Dr Alipui went on:

“UNICEF supports the Philippines Department of Health’s efforts to strictly control the marketing and promotion of artificial breastmilk substitutes, in conformity with international accepted standards as defined by the World Health Organisation. This is vital in a developing country like the Philippines were excessive glamorization and exaggerated health claims ascribed to artificial breastmilk substitutes induce poor families to abandon the cheapest, safest and healthiest source of nutrition for their young children – breastfeeding.”

Sounds like the sort of thing Baby Milk Action says, doesn’t it? That is because we know what we are talking about. Nestlé and friends may sometimes try to suggest they are only criticised by us - a bunch of activists - but in reality we are simply the outspoken section in a range of health advocates.

As a Non-Governmental Organisation funded by membership and grants from trusts and development organisations, we are answerable only to our members, board of directors and accountants. This gives us the freedom to bring people onto the streets when necessary, to run campaigns such as the Nestlé boycott and to be a little blunter when exposing the shameful practices of companies that put their own profits before infant health. Without political master or corporate partners to worry about upsetting, we can organise letter writing campaigns to support governments and to put pressure on companies. See:

But make no mistake. We are not mavericks making unreasonable demands on companies. The strategies we devise are to complement those of the broader health community who may not have the same freedoms.

The regulations we monitor and call for companies to abide by were adopted by the World Health Assembly, made up of the world’s health ministries. The regulations we and our partners in the Philippines are defending, were introduced by the Department of Health (DOH) there. The claims we make are backed by hard evidence and scientific research.

Here is what Dr. Alipui said in his letter to the paper about the Philippines regulations:

“The revised IRR of the Executive Order 51 supported by DOH seeks only to regulate the marketing of breastmilk substitutes. The revised IRR will enable mothers to make informed choices based on accurate and reliable information. Impartial information cannot come from parties that stand to make profit from one choice or another. And if mothers make truly informed choices about the feeding of their children, then nobody can make them feel guilty.”

Our aim is the same at that of UNICEF and the World Health Assembly: to protect infant health and the right of mothers (all mothers) to independent information, through implementing globally agreed marketing standards.

Our petition of support and delegation to the Philippines Embassy in London has helped to get this issue onto the front page of the papers in the Philippines. See past blogs, such as:

UNICEF’s response has brought the issue onto the letters page of another paper, attempting to undo the damage caused by a misleading article.

All very well for raising awareness, but meanwhile the industry opens its cheque book and runs full colour advertisements.

So we must continue to call on your help and support our partners, the government and mother and their families in the Philippines. At present the industry has succeeded in having the new marketing regulations suspended. The case continues, even with the assassination of the government lawyer defending the case (by people still unknown). See:

This is the reality we face in every case, powerful vested interests defending their profits, regardless of the impact on infant health. It is never easy, but we have won through in other countries and with your support we will win through here. Become a member of Baby Milk Action or send a donation. Or buy something from our shop. Over half our income comes from people doing just that and every penny helps. Also tell people what is really going on. Direct people to this blog and our website

One hundred mothers demonstrated outside the offices of the baby food companies in the Philippines last week to raise awareness of how they had been misled by company promotion and their infants suffered as a consequence. Some will be bringing legal action for compensation.

If you are a journalist you can cover this story. I wrote about this in my blog on Monday.

UNICEF Philippines sent the following out yesterday. With a picture.

Photo caption: Philippines mothers protest deceptive marketing of infant formula companies, which leads to at least 16,000 deaths in the country every year.

Copyright: UNICEF/PHI/2007/J Bondoc

Click here for a hi-resolution version.

---UNICEF Philippines press release

In the Philippines, mothers demand truth about infant formula

Over 100 formula feeding mothers and their babies protested in front of infant formula manufacturers’ offices, claiming milk advertisements have deceived them into giving their babies infant formula instead of breastmilk.

“My message to the milk companies is to stop deceiving those who buy infant formula,” says Nadine Sylvano, mother of five children. “They say that their milk is good for children’s brains, will make children healthy, stout and give strong bones. But it’s not true.”

“My breastfed child did not get sick often but this one, almost every month I have to bring her again to the hospital because she is sick again,” Sylvano observed.

When asked why she did not breastfeed her fifth child, Sylvano replies, “Because I did not have milk from my breasts.”

Sylvano’s experience is a common one. According to the National Statistics Office, 31 per cent of mothers in the Philippines do not breastfeed because they believe that they do not have enough milk.

Only 16 per cent of babies four to five months of age are still exclusively breastfeeding.

Even though UNICEF and WHO recommend exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life, half of all babies in the Philippines are exclusively breastfed for less than one month.

Aggressive advertising and marketing of infant formula has undermined mothers’ confidence in their ability to nourish their children, claims Innes Fernandez, convenor of Save Babies Coalition.

“They were all cheated, they were all beguiled by all this false advertising, marketing activities that seduce them to buy their formula, believing the testimonials of celebrities so they were always hoping and wishing that they would have healthy babies,” Fernandez adds.

Milk companies aver that they also advocate for breastfeeding but want to give consumers a choice.

“We believe… breastfeeding is best for babies,” says Andrew Santos, Vice-President of Wyeth Philippines. “What we have there are products that if the Mom chooses, or if for some reason she cannot breastfeed, then she is given that on her own decision, to be able to, or the paediatrician especially, to make a choice.”

Fernandez counters, however, that even medical doctors are unable to make an informed choice about infant feeding.

Dr. Lester Lora, who used to manage the maternal and child health programme in the Department of Health, says that even she was not properly informed about breastfeeding.

“During our time, nobody taught us [in medical school] about breastfeeding. Instead, we were taught how to prepare infant formula,” Dr. Lora says.

As a result, she herself fed her three sons infant formula and blames it for their lifelong battles with various diseases, from diabetes to ulcerative colitis.

UNICEF has been supporting the Philippines Department of Health to more strictly enforce the National Milk Code, which regulates the marketing of breastmilk substitutes. However, in 2006, the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines, made up of milk companies among others, succeeded in appealing to the Supreme Court for a temporary restraining order on the Code’s revised implementing rules and regulations.

In the meantime, infant formula advertisements continue to make claims of health and cognitive benefits.

“Stop all these false claims,” demands Fernandez.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hard sell formula for underming breastfeeding in the UK

Yesterday I wrote about the latest monitoring from our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) in Brazil. Today the focus is on the UK, where legislation is narrow and enforcement weak. In the UK companies can roll out integrated strategies to undermine breastfeeding and generally get away with it.

It falls to Baby Milk Action, our partners in the Baby Feeding Law Group (BFLG) and supporters on the ground to call companies to account in the UK. Today Baby Milk Action has launched a pamphlet on behalf of BFLG explaining company strategies.

While we are perhaps best known for the Nestlé boycott, this is just one part of our range of strategies to protect infant and young child health. All aim towards stopping aggressive marketing by the baby food industry. Monitoring tells us what companies are up to in shops, health centres, on the internet, in targeting mothers. Staff conduct some monitoring themselves, particularly of product labels, but for a broader view of what goes on, supporters are our eyes, ears, documenters and photographers.

The Baby Feeding Law Group website has a monitoring section where members of the public and volunteers we have trained can report details of aggressive marketing. Reports on the site are updated periodically, showing how the baby food companies and retailers are violating the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly and even the weaker UK law.

These results have been picked up by the media in the past, as well as being fed into global monitoring snapshots, such as that coordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) during World Breastfeeding Week in August last year, marking the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the International Code.

We have run letter-writing campaigns where supporters have called on companies to fulfil their obligations under the UK law and the Code and Resolutions. This has prompted a few minor changes, but generally the responses, when they have come, have shown how contemptuous of the measures companies are. This is useful for re-enforcing our case that the Code and Resolutions need to be introduced into legislation. See, for example,

In its public health white paper in 2004 the Government agreed to review the law and to work for the strengthening of the EU Directive from which it derives. This didn’t happen by chance. It came from campaigns we have run with our partners, our denouncing the lack of action to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which called in 2002 for the Code to be implemented in the UK, from events at the House of Commons and from our supporters contacting their Members of Parliament and Ministers.

We now look forward to the review of the law. The monitoring evidence is an essential part of the campaign to show how the Code and Resolutions are being violated and how the law needs to be strengthened. I wish to thank all our supporters once again for submitting evidence. We have a range of reports and events planned for the coming months. First up, is this short pamphlet showing as starkly as we can the integrated strategy used by the baby food industry in the UK.

It is just 4 pages and so easy to digest. We aim to shock people into realising that while the companies claim they are simply providing information to those who ask for it, there is really a well thought out campaign to persuade women to look to the companies for advice on infant care, after which they are bombarded with formula brand names and promotional messages.

This starts even before the child is born. With the offer of prizes for signing up to company information services. Emails and mailshots then follow. Women are encouraged to call the company ‘careline’ or order leaflets and videos. One company has even targeted mothers when they go to the registry office to register the birth of their children.

Health workers are offered prizes to support the ‘carelines’. The pamphlet shows the credit-card-sized cards one company sent to health workers to give to mothers. Companies also send information materials to health workers with dubious claims about the advantages of their products and encourage them to order leaflets to pass on to mothers. To get closer to health workers they are invited to study days branded with formula names.

Mothers are then bombarded with promotional materials, through email, direct mail, advertising, at leisure facilities, health centres and crèches. ‘I’m thinking of getting a t-shirt made’, says one piece of direct mail we picture. ‘Danger! Sore boobs!’ At the bottom of this message is the formula brand name.

Companies will carry right on with these strategies and others still to be invented, until the law changes. Even then, the law will need enforcing. The current weak law is poorly enforced, as we explain in the pamphlet. Supermarkets repeat illegal promotion of infant formula with apparent impunity. Baby food companies run de facto advertisements for infant formula and the authorities are not even prepared to investigate. See

Not only is breastfeeding undermined, but mothers who decide to use formula receive misleading information and are not made aware of the risks of formula feeding or all the action that can be taken to reduce them.

So, download the pamphlet and direct people to the website to take a copy themselves. The link is:

We will have printed copies available in due course.

Our UK campaign is an essential part of our work. Infants at home deserve protection too, even if the sickness arising from artificial feeding is unlikely to lead to death as in poor settings.

In the past we had a Health Campaigns Coordinator to focus specifically on the UK situation, but due to funding cut backs our employed team of 3 has to fit in work on this issue alongside supporting overseas partners, promoting the boycott and achieving systemic changes at international level - such as at Codex Alimentarius - where far-reaching improvements are won, see

Donations to help with this work are always welcome. Donations can be made via our on-line shop. Or please consider becoming a member.

With our funding tight, any amount makes a difference and will enable us to have a bigger impact. There will, of course, also be the opportunity to take part directly in the campaign. And please do keep on monitoring.

By the end of the year I hope much of the aggressive marketing exposed in the pamphlet will be illegal so that breastfeeding is not undermined and so that mothers who do use formula have accurate information and clearer instructions on how to reduce risks.

Then I will write a blog explaining how the meetings, demonstrations, comments on draft regulations, letter writing campaigns and the monitoring helped to bring this about for the benefit of our children. This is how lives are saved, sickness reduced.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Making Brazil's law work

Oh, for the problems of Brazil when it comes to baby food marketing.

I have written previously about Brazil’s exemplary legislation implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly. See

As said then, violations that happen elsewhere in the world, do not happen in Brazil, showing that companies can comply when compelled to do so.

Key in this, is that companies do have to be compelled. In Brazil, the regulations are monitored by the government’s health inspectorate (ANVISA) and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). The latest IBFAN results have just been referenced in an article published by the Institute in Defence of the Consumer (IDEC).

They do find violations, but of a whole different order to what is seen in other countries. The UK, for example, is put to shame. Here companies advertise breastmilk substitutes with impunity, exploiting weak laws which allow the advertising of follow-on milks and the brand names used for infant formula. Supermarkets in the UK repeatedly run illegal promotions for infant formula and receive warnings without being prosecuted. See

So what happens in Brazil?

I have just received an article on monitoring conducted by IBFAN, published in the IDEC magazine in December 2006. You can download it here (it is in Portuguese).

It is headed ‘IBFAN detects irregularities’. These relate to the labelling of products, principally whole milks and foods for young children without age of use displayed and/or required ‘Government Health Warnings’.

The type of idealizing images and texts seen elsewhere are not a problem in Brazil. For example, you don’t find infant formula labels boasting of ‘brain building blocks’ like Nestlé markets in the Philippines (click here). Famously, Gerber does not use its baby logo on feeding bottles in Brazil, while continuing to do so elsewhere in the world.

ANVISA began systematic monitoring in 2006 and also reports finding irregularities on labels (click here for a report in Portuguese).

The other type of problem found in Brazil is the targeting of mothers. Not with company representatives in supermarkets, like we get in the UK. Not with leaflets and television advertising in doctors surgeries pushing product brand names, which are also commonplace here. But websites directed at mothers. In Brazil it is illegal for companies to produce or sponsor information on infant feeding. This responsibility is given to health workers. Information on feeding young children over one year of age, has to contain specific information.

The report states that companies including Nestlé, Gerber and Mead Johnson were found to be breaking this requirement. Nestlé, perhaps wary of this further fuelling the boycott, said it would make changes. Gerber and Mead Johnson are challenging the report. The exposé in Brazil (and our publicising it) will help to keep up the pressure on them to change. The inclusion of Gerber owners, Novartis, in the FTSE4Good listing is due to be reviewed shortly and we have forwarded the report of violations in Brazil. Gerber said it would change practices to comply with the FTSE4Good criteria and was admitted on that basis. The clock is ticking and if it does not change its practices it will be expelled from the list. See

In Brazil breastfeeding rates are increasing year on year. This happens not only because the Code and Resolutions have been implemented in legislation, but because campaigners and now government authorities are monitoring the regulations. And must continue doing so to ensure full compliance. Without an end to aggressive marketing, efforts to promote and support breastfeeding are undermined.

Brazil is an example to the world.

Let us hope as the UK law is revised during 2007 our government will learn a few lessons. Tomorrow we will be launching a monitoring report ourselves, exposing the strategies used by the baby food industry in the UK to undermine breastfeeding.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Misled mothers in Philippines protest

Latest news from the campaign to defend the Philippines baby food marketing regulations.

Yesterday I wrote about why I had turned down a request for an interview from a PR crisis management agency. While its approach was on behalf of a charity that is considering entering into partnership with Nestlé and kept its identity secret. The PR agency has also worked for Abbott, part of the reason why I refused the interview request.

Abbott is part of the Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines that has taken the Philippines Government to court in an attempt to strike down baby food marketing regulations implementing the World Health Assembly standards. Other members include Wyeth, Mead Johnson and Gerber.

Nestlé, the would-be partner of the charity that is too embarrassed to even give its name in confidence, is not a member of the Association but has opposed key provisions of the regulations. It is also opposing a draft bill currently passing through congress in favour of another bill in line with its own weaker proposals.

Our partners in the Philippines have petitioned the Supreme Court in support of the regulations. The court had suspended the regulations shortly after the US Chamber of Commerce wrote to the President threatening to cut investment in the country and calling on her to interfere in the court case.

Last week they demonstrated outside the headquarters of companies involved in the legal action, generating coverage in the national press.

Here is a picture from the Business Mirror (16 February 2007):

This included mothers who had artificially-fed their children after believing the health claims used to promote formula.

The Philippines Daily Inquirer (16 February 2007) reports: “Despite feeding her son daily with milk products widely advertised on television, Glenda Colasito constantly worried about the sickly 9-month-old baby who could not get over his cough and colds. Putting the blame on artificial milk for her son’s condition, Colasito, with her baby, joined more than 100 mothers in condemning two foreign giant milk companies in Makati City yesterday for “marketing lies” and taking advantage of their vulnerability and poverty.”

According to the World Health Organisation 16,000 infants die in the Philippines every year due to inappropriate feeding. Our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) in the Philippines are planning to support 150 mothers in filing cases against two companies, Wyeth and Mead Johnson, for violating the existing regulations.

See the news report for more details and watch this space.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Nestlé - you are an embarrassment

Recently I was approached by UK lobbying consultants to be interviewed in my office. Maybe you have been too.

The letter said this was because a leading UK charity needed information on the: “potential risks or benefits that a partnership with Nestlé, the global food manufacturing company, would present.”

We do have long experience of Nestlé trying to form partnerships with charities to divert criticism, undermine the boycott and promote its products. As the Chief Executive has said, support of charities has to benefit shareholders.

There were some peculiarities with the approach being made to us. Firstly, the consultants, AS Biss, contracted to conduct the interview. I will say more about my concerns later.

Secondly, this statement in the invitation: “Since the decision of the charity on whether or not to proceed with the partnership depends on the outcome of this study, they have wished to remain anonymous.”

This doesn't make much sense to me. Better information could be provided if I know the which charity and its area of work.

Why hadn't the charity made contact to ask me to participate in the study? How was I to know the approach was bona fide and my participating would help to protect infants rather than undermine the campaign?

This charity is, presumably, already in contact with Nestlé and seriously considering working in partnership. Knowing Nestlé is the most boycotted company in the UK, perhaps they want to develop a strategy to counter any adverse publicity. Might this not simply be an intelligence-gathering exercise, with the visit to the office and the interview set up to discover what resources and strategy Baby Milk Action might use, if a partnership deal is announced, to raise awareness of Nestlé’s corporate malpractice?

If it is a genuine study on the pros and cons of partnership, then what guarantees can I have about how the information will be presented and distributed if I did participate? If the partnership went ahead, everything may possibly end up in Nestlé’s hands, officially or unofficially.

With such questions in mind, I responded to the consultants as follows:

This does sound intriguing and we are very alert to the pitfalls of partnerships and, in particular, the way Nestlé tries to promote and exploit them. You may have seen cases documented on our website and be aware of past actions, such as our reporting a charity to the Charity Commissioners over the way it appeared to have been influenced in its public statements by accepting Nestlé sponsorship.

However, I am rather concerned by the anonymous nature of the request. You state: “Since the decision of the charity on whether or not to proceed with the partnership depends on the outcome of this study, they have wished to remain anonymous.”

I am unable to understand why the weight they put on the study has any bearing on whether they are anonymous or not. It would seem to make more sense NOT to remain anonymous – even if requesting full confidentiality – so our evaluation of the risks is appropriate to their area of operations.

Of more importance, however, is I do not know your organisation and only have your word that you are conducting the study for a charity.

I do not know who else you may have worked for in the past or may work for in the future who may wish to make use of any information we may make available to you.

Although I know nothing about your organisation, I do not doubt you pursue the highest professional standards of confidentiality. However, for all I know you could do contract work for corporate interests that we may see as presenting a conflict of interest.

Therefore, before I can say I will participate in the study, I request that you go back to the ‘leading UK charity’ and ask them to contact me directly to indicate your request is bona fide and they welcome my cooperation in the study.

While I may be willing to cooperate if they are not prepared to do this, I would prefer you put the request to them. You can do so by forwarding this email if you wish.

This request is not made flippantly. We have in the past had the experience of researchers having an undeclared corporate connection and so cannot take approaches such as this at face value, much as we may like to welcome you into our office and provide you with information.

I look forward to hearing from you after you have contacted the charity.

A little while later the response came. The charity was neither prepared to be named nor to contact me directly. The reason given: “I am sure you will appreciate that this is a very sensitive subject and that it is in the charity's interests to remain anonymous at this stage.”

The charity simply does not even want anyone to know that it is considering a partnership with Nestlé. It is not even prepared to tell another not-for-profit organisation in confidence.

That should really tell the charity all it needs to know. Nestlé is an embarrassment.

I responded to say I would not be meeting with AS Biss, though would still consider discussing the issues with the charity directly. Before doing so, we would need to discuss any confidentiality requirements they may wish to request and to reach agreement on how our information would be presented and distributed.

In past cases, for example, we have asked to see the write-up of our position so we can make any corrections required and sign this off. We have agreed if and how we will refer to the meeting and the outcome. Each case has to be treated on its merits. If the charity is to be anonymous, then none of this is possible. I am effectively being asked to trust that participating won't harm my work, but no trust is being shown to me.

However, I do want the charity to consider not only the risks to its own image and activities, but to the wider campaign.

We have documented how Nestlé throws money at charities, particularly those linked with children, to try to divert criticism of its baby food marketing activities and to undermine the boycott. I will write a blog rounding up this information shortly.

Ah, you may say, if this is going to be published in a blog, why not just meet with the consultants?

Certainly I will draw the blog and information in the public domain to the attention of the consultants, but will not have them in our office or take part in an interview. There are several reasons for this, aside from concerns over the anonymity of the charity.

The consultants have worked recently for Abbott. Here is the client list. This is one of the companies we target over its aggressive marketing of baby foods. We are currently campaigning against its involvement in the attack on the Philippines regulations. See our Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet.

The consultancy’s speciality is crisis-management. This is what it says it does on its website:

We help you to influence attitudes, opinions and mindsets - when it counts, where it counts. The objective is often a turnaround: to convert opinion leading indifference or antipathy towards your aims into support and positive actions which will help to achieve them. Come to us if you:

  • face a business-critical threat, or a crisis that political intervention will help to resolve
  • need to reposition your profile to improve relationships with officials, politicians, media, or the local community
  • have a single issue on which you want to campaign
  • see communications as integral to changing your internal culture
We are professional lobbyists, and proud of it.

This choice of consultants, as I said in a message to be relayed to the anonymous charity, implies the study is about minimising risks to the charity rather than to infants, mothers and Baby Milk Action.

As it says on the AS Biss website: “What we have done for our clients, we can also do for you. We can help you to: Keep out of the headlines and away from the press pack.”

Another reason for being wary of allowing the consultants into our office is that we are currently campaign to strengthen UK baby food marketing regulations.

AS Biss says on its website, it works to: “Save you £ millions by spotting and stopping a legislative threat” and “Develop the case that persuades the regulator to think again.”

This is what they do. There are many professionals lobbyists working to achieve the goals of whoever contracts them. Not only corporations, but some government departments and non-profit organisations. That is the nature of the business. But is it our role to help them? I think not.

Should we have any concern that information gained through a visit to our office may be useful if the consultants are contracted by, oh, let's say Abbott to counter our Philippines campaign? Or by baby food companies currently lobbying to counter our UK law campaign?

No doubt AS Biss is professional and any information it gained from us would be kept confidential.

But perhaps not the experience it gains from meeting and questioning us.

The profiles of the consultants on the websites highlight experience gained in past employment.

And it invites potential clients to get in touch with questions like:

“This is my issue - what's your experience of something similar?”

Let them say their experience of Nestlé is it is an embarassment to be associated with it.

Far better to support the baby milk campaign by refusing to enter into 'partnership'. More on this soon.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Ruling against Redbush tea advertisement

It is great to be able to flag up an investigation conducted by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). We have been critical of the ASA in the past for refusing to investigate advertisements that we argue are de facto advertisements for infant formula, which are illegal in the UK. See last Thursday, for example:

Also for refusing to accept that as advertisements have to be ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’ companies should do more than comply with a narrow interpretation of the law. We believe decent, honest and truthful advertising should also comply with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly as companies are called upon to abide by the Code’s provisions independently of government measures.

The ASA – which is funded by the advertising industry – disagrees. Violating the marketing requirements of the world’s highest health policy setting body is fine under the industry’s voluntary code.

Which is by way of introduction to congratulating the ASA for a ruling published last week. We do give credit where credit is due, as in my earlier blog:

This new ruling is about Redbush Tea, which was promoted for feeding for infants in an advertorial in a parenting magazine. As it was promoted for use before 6 months of age, it is a de facto breastmilk substitute. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended before 6 months, with no water, juices, tea or other liquids. This argument cuts little ice with the ASA, of course.

However, it did take issue with some of the health claims in the advertisement. Jacqui Stronach, a campaign supporter and trainer with the Breastfeeding Network came across the advertisement in a tutorial she was training to be Breastfeeding Helpers. She complained to both Trading Standards and the ASA. Her complaints were:

The complainant challenged whether:

1. the claim "Rooibos tea has been helping soothe digestive disorders for years" was misleading and could be substantiated;

2. the claim "her daughter slept peacefully, having suffered for months with colic and vomiting" implied Redbush could be used to treat colic and nausea;

3. the claim "Redbush has fantastic skin healing properties" was misleading and could be substantiated and

4. the claim "If bottle feeding your baby, add Redbush to the formula instead of water" encouraged an irresponsible practice.

The ASA was on good form and itself challenged whether the claims:

5. "Naturally infused with anti-inflammatory properties" and

6. "can help overcome the symptoms of nausea and headaches commonly found from drinking coffee" were misleading and could be substantiated.

Redbush tea claimed the advertisement had been prepared by Pregnancy and Birth following a readership survey. Pregnancy and Birth said it had prepared the advertisement from information from the company, which had signed it off.

The ASA ruled the advertisement was both misleading and irresponsible.

You can read the full ruling at:

It is worth highlighting:” We did not see evidence that showed Redbush could safely be added to formula instead of water or that it was clinically prescribed for babies for any purpose. We concluded that the ad was irresponsible.”

Redbush tea says it was a one off and they have no plans to run similar advertisements.

So the moral of the story is it is worth complaining. You can find information on how to do so at If you find something that you think is bad advertising please do complain. The more people that do so the better.

Baby Milk Action will continue to pursue its own complaints on occasion, though with limited resources we are concentrating on getting the law – and ASA codes – changed at the present time.

I am on leave this week so there will be a break in the blog, but I wanted to bring this to your attention and voice our congratulations to Jacqui.

And to the ASA. Well done.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Nestlé and the One World Trust report

A while ago I wrote about the way Nestlé was presenting its pretty poor evaluation in the Global Accountability Report 2006 prepared by the One World Trust as a positive rating for the company. Its presentation was selective. It did not mention that it was not listed amongst the 8 organisations scoring more than 50% in three of the four categories mentioned. It managed just over 50% in 2 categories. The quality of its information disclosure policy was rated as 0% (yes, zero percent). You can read more details and the report itself by going to:

The blog has attracted a comment from the One World Trust. I include it in full below:

---Rob Lloyd wrote:

Thanks mike for this posting and for interpreting the results of the 2006 Global Accountability Report exactly as they should be: an assessment of the extent to which organisations have the capabilities – policies and systems – at headquarters or the global office to foster accountability; not a measure of how accountable organisations are in practice.

As you note though, the issue of how policy translate into action is absolutely key. Nestle might make worthy commitments on paper, but do these translate into concrete practice? The Index team at the One World Trust are currently grappling with this issue and are developing a number of ways of assessing accountability in practice both at the global office and field levels and will be publishing a series of practice supplements to the 2006 Global Accountability Report later this year. We are also aiming to identify partner organisations that would use the Global Accountability Framework and methodology to undertake country-level assessments on how accountability commitments made in policies at the global level translate in the field at national levels.

We’ve also just completed accountability profiles for each of the 30 assessed organisations- including Nestle. These detail how each of the 30 organisations scored in the four dimensions of accountability - transparency, participation, evaluation, and complaints and response - and highlight some general areas that require improvement. You can download them here: Organisations

If you have any experience with engaging with any of the assessed organisations, please do take the time to note them down in the resources and comments part of the organisation’s profile. This will help build a more complete picture of their accountability.



This is a good offer. If relevant, please do add your experiences of Nestlé to the One World Trust site as we have done and as the International Labor Rights Fund has done over Nestlé's failure to act on child slavery in Ivory Coast.

I will include below the Conclusions of the Global Accountability Report on Nestlé, as Nestlé's selective representation of the evaluation does rather rely on people not reading the report. For example, while it is acknowledged that Nestlé is one of the few organisations to have an information disclosure policy, the quality of it is rated as 0% (zero percent). The single-product complaint mechanism referred to is for infant formula marketing - and we know how ineffective that is in practice!

The full entry on Nestlé is at:


Nestlé’s evaluation capabilities are the most developed dimension of their accountability, while their participation capabilities are the worst. With the exception of evaluation, Nestlé either does not have the necessary policies for fostering consistent implementation of accountability, or has policies that lack key good practice principles.

In transparency, Nestlé is one of the only companies to have developed an information disclosure policy. But the policy includes no good practice principles. To strengthen their capabilities for ensuring consistent public disclosure of information across the company Nestlé should identify narrowly defined conditions for non-disclosure and commit to responding to information requests within a defined period of time. In participation, Nestlé only make a general commitment to engaging with those outside the company through their Corporate Business Principles. They should go further and develop a detailed policy on external stakeholder engagement that identifies the conditions under which stakeholder can expect to be engaged in company decision-making and commits to incorporating stakeholder input into decision-making else providing an explanation. Furthermore, Nestlé needs to strengthen their complaints and response capabilities; the company needs to put in place a complaint mechanism that covers more than a single product and allows both internal and external stakeholder to submit complaints for issues of non-compliance in relation to all the company’s policies and practices.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Why do baby food companies promote websites to mothers?

This may sound like a stupid question.

Unfortunately it is one that needs answering. Policy makers and those who want to excuse partnerships with companies that violate the World Health Assembly marketing requirements are sometimes remarkably lenient in their views of baby food company targeting of mothers. Even enforcement authorities such as the UK Advertising Standards Authority, let them get away with this on a systematic basis.

The reason this is an issue is that in the UK, where promotion of infant formula is banned, companies have developed their tactics to appear to comply with the letter of the law.

So you rarely see an advertisement explicitely for infant formula. Even the successful 2003 prosecution of Wyeth over an advertisement for SMA Gold became an 8-day argument because the advertisement did not include the words 'SMA Gold'. It included SMA, infant formula and had baby pictures, but, the company argued that it was legal because it didn't include the specific brand name. The judge disagreed and Wyeth now has a criminal conviction in the UK for illegal advertising. This is a story I will relate at length some day because I sat through much of the trial.

In the UK advertisements for follow-on formula are commonplace. They violate the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, but we argue they also break the law because they are de facto infant formula advertisements. The brand name used is often the same for the follow-on milk and the infant formula. The only difference between pack shots is usually the colour and the number highlighted - 1,2 and 3 appear, one of them is in bold. And they promote websites that have the full range. The ASA refuses to even investigate our complaints about follow-on milk advertisements. It refuses to consider websites arguing they are 'editorial' material not advertising copy. We argue they are an extension of the advertising campaigns that direct mothers to them for information.

Yesterday I gave some examples of Wyeth/SMA competitions promoting carelines and websites alongside the SMA brand name and the Progress follow-on formula.

Companies also promote their formula brand names, carelines and websites without referring to formula. There are leaflets in doctors clinics offering mothers the chance to win prizes simply by signing up to receive information from the company.

Bounty packs given to mothers in hospitals and Bounty website promotions are another way companies target mothers. For example, Hipp ran a promotion with Bounty, ostensibly for toddler foods.

All the above theories as to why companies target mothers are proved true by the information on Bounty's own website. The intention was to get mothers to go to the website where the full range of products, including formula, was promoted.


HiPP Organic targeted expectant mums and mums with children at toddler age through an online campaign.

Taking an integrated approach, their objective was to engage expectant and new mums through an educational campaign.


HiPP Organic wanted to target mums-to-be and mums with toddlers with a view to increasing awareness of the HiPP brand and the benefits of eating organically during pregnancy and for feeding toddlers on organic food.

Therefore, they were keen to tie up with websites that catered for these demographics.

HiPP were also keen to drive traffic to the HiPP website in order to increase awareness and understanding of the full product range, including the HiPP Organic milks range.
The results

The aim of the campaign for HiPP was to engage with consumers with a view to raising awareness of the HiPP brand and the benefits of organic foods. The success was measured by the number of users who clicked through the various links and viewing the featured articles, competition and survey entries, as well as registration with HiPP.

* Online advertising - 750,008 impressions , 1,275 click throughs
* Delivered 6,953 click thrus to Your Pregnancy section (16.43% click thru rate)
* Delivered 20,288 click thrus to Your Toddler section (17.28% click thru rate)
* 19,765 competition entries

The Toddler survey received 10,482 entries with 90% of participants also registering with HiPP; a further 3,328 visitors registered with HiPP through the featured articles.
---quote ends

So mission accomplished for Hipp. What was it again:

"HiPP were also keen to drive traffic to the HiPP website in order to increase awareness and understanding of the full product range, including the HiPP Organic milks range."

Ah, yes. Now we know.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Help save one million babies and win US$100!!

I get a little fed up with the promotions of the baby food companies. Things like this in the UK:

"To celebrate its sponsorship of Living TV's Baby Zone, SMA Progress are offering five readers the chance to win a digital camera with a Lexmark P450 photo printer, as well as the chance for their little stars to have their first five minutes of fame on Living TV and the Baby Zone website."

"To celebrate the fact that SMA Nutrition is sponsorting the Baby Zone on LIVINGtv and LIVINGtv2, we are giving you the chance to win a fantastic Sony Digital Video Cam!…. But that's not all, three runners up will receive £50 in Early Learning Centre vouchers!"

Inducements to get mothers onto the SMA database or to call the SMA Careline or visit the website where infant formula is promoted with idealizing claims.

The competition involved submitting baby pictures. Many who follow up the promotion, of course, will do so saying: "Why not? I may win something, and I won't be influenced".

For the companies it is a small investment and targeting mothers directly in this way is a key part of their marketing strategy. It is also explicitly prohibited by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

So I will be totally up front and say this offer of US$100 is intended to encourage you to visit a website and to be influenced. Though you won't be targeted with promotional materials. And before someone gets smart, as we are not a company marketing or distributing breastmilk substitutes this is not violating the Code.

It is part of the preparations for World Breastfeeding Week, an annual event promoted by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), of which Baby Milk Action is a member. The week runs from 1-7 August and has a different theme each year.

Last year the theme was the 25th anniversary of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and we coordinated gathering evidence of company violations in the UK to submit to WABA's global spot monitoring project during the week.

This year the theme is: "Breastfeeding: The 1st Hour – Save ONE million babies!"

That's how many babies could be saved around the world every year if breastfeeding was initiated in the first hour. That is how powerful the properties of breastmilk are. The studies are cited in the paper on the WABA website.

There is also information on the competition, which also involves submitting baby pictures.

Here is what it says on the website:

Feature your breastfeeding photos in this year’s Action Folder!

We are organising a global breastfeeding photography contest for WBW 2007.

10 winning photos will be selected, and contributors whose photos are featured in the Action Folders will be awarded US$100 for each published photo.

Send us your photos by 15 March 2007.

Tell YOUR story through your photos – Grab your camera and start clicking away!

So you could win US$100 and have your picture go around the world in the campaign to help save babies lives!!

Why not.

And if you don’t win, you may be influenced by what you read anyway.

That, after all, is the point.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Philippines campaign gains coverage in Australia

Our partners in the Philippines continue to campaign in support of the Ministry of Health regulations for the marketing of baby foods. These are being challenged in the court by US pharmaceutical companies and the US Chamber of Commerce has put pressure on the President to intervene, following which the regulations were suspended. Nestlé claims to support the regulations, but has opposed key provisions and we understand is backing a bill in the congress that would implement its own weaker measures in place of the Ministry of Health ones.

Top tip: you can bring all my past blogs on this topic together in one window with a search on 'Philippines'.

With powerful vested interests using all their influence through the courts and outside them to undermine the regulations so they continue the type of aggressive marketing exposed on our website, it is essential that the rest of the world take notice.

We have helped to gain coverage for this issue in the UK, the Philippines and elsewhere, while our partners in the Philippines have organised mass demonstrations and submitted papers to the Supreme Court, hearing the case.

Now we see that the Australian media is noticing the machinations of the baby food industry in the Philippines, with an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, including interviews with Ines Fernandez (from our partner organisation) and UNICEF Philippines.

Here is an extract from the full article: which relates the argument over regulations to the very real impact on infant feeding decisions and infant health amongst the T'boli tribes people in the remote hills of the Mindanao, in the southern Philippines.


The World Health Organisation estimates 16,000 babies a year die in the Philippines as a result of a decline in breastfeeding. Today, only 16 per cent of children at four to five months are exclusively breastfed, down from 25 per cent in 1998.

The international benchmark is for exclusive breastfeeding until six months and continuous breastfeeding until two years. "The aspiration [of the T'boli] was if they had money, they would buy the milk, because every night they see milk advertisements on television," said breastfeeding campaigner Ines Fernandez.

In a country where UNICEF estimates 20 to 30 per cent of children are malnourished, the organisation sees breastfeeding as an essential tool in the fight against disease. "Breastfeeding is a hallmark of child health. It's a magic bullet in child survival.

"There is an ocean of evidence now that you can prevent disease, surround the child in a hygienic cocoon," said Dale Rutstein, UNICEF's spokesman in Manila.

Ms Fernandez's civil society group, Arugaan, with the Philippines Department of Health, is locked in a legal battle with the powdered milk industry to tighten regulations on false advertising and distribution of infant formula.


The article explains about the efforts of the industry to stop the regulations and refers to the assassination in December of the government lawyer, Nestor Ballacillo, defending the case. No link is yet proven, though the Solicitor General has suggested there may be one.

This coverage does not happen in isolation. There are paid avertisements that look like news articles, arguing that regulation is unnecessary. More on those soon.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Young IBFAN in Gambia

A few days ago I wrote about the importance of young people in the campaign to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action has an award for young people, which you can read about at:

The end of last week up popped a news alert about representatives of young IBFAN in The Gambia visiting with the Vice-President to raise their concerns about the importation of breastmilk substitutes and how aggressive promotion by the baby food industry undermines breastfeeding.

The Vice-President said she would carry the message to other members of the cabinet.

See an article at:

We have worked very closely with partners in Africa at various times, including helping to train policy makers from Portuguese countries, raising funds for a campaigns officer for the IBFAN Africa network, supporting partners in Cameroon as it became the first African country to launch the Nestlé boycott and generally working together at international level on issues such as HIV and to expose company malpractice.

It is great to see a new generation is making headlines.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Novartis - ethical corporation?

Novartis owns the baby food company Gerber. We have been campaigning for many years for Gerber to abide by the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods. Recently we welcomed the fact that Gerber had indicated its intention to comply to gain admission to the FTSE4Good ethical investment listing, while noting that Gerber continues to violate the requirements in a systematic way.

We are taking a 'wait and see' approach. 5 months after being admitted to the list after changing policies, it seems that practices have still not changed. The malpractice we exposed in our Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet in September 2006 is still there to see on the Gerber website.

But Novartis is already making much of its inclusion in the FTSE4Good listing. It has just posted a report on its website with the title: "Corporate Citizenship Review". See

This includes the following:

As a further recognition [of Novartis's Corporate Citizenship], Novartis was included in the 2006 FTSE4Good Global Index. The move identifies Novartis as a socially responsible business and increases our visibility and attractiveness to individuals and asset managers looking to invest in sustainable companies.

Now, we asked FTSE to clarify what the listing signifies and were told:

The FTSE4Good Breastmilk Substitutes criteria are based on the WHA Code with the added requirement for companies to clearly demonstrate the presence and application of management systems and to report on external verification. This can take time to implement. Companies in the Index are reviewed every 6 months and are subject to deletion if they are considered not to be continuing to make sufficient progress in all the criteria areas.

So Novartis may lose the visibility and associated attractiveness to individuals and asset managers if it doesn't put the systems into operation pretty soon. That, I guess, is how the system is supposed to work. It's a safe bet though that if Novartis does lose its listing, it won't appear in its next Corporate Citizenship report!

Gerber is one of the companies in the Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines (PHAP) which is taking action against the Ministry of Health for introducing regulations for the marketing of baby foods. See blog entries, such as:

I am not against pharmaceutical companies, being grateful for the medicines that they produce, but being part of a legal action against these regulations does not seem to fit with the Novartis claim in its report that:

It is important to note that being a socially responsible company isn’t an exercise where ‘one size fits all.’ Rather, we try to meet each community’s individual needs, engaging in an active dialogue via community panels, patient groups, healthcare professionals and international agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO).

It seems that all of those stakeholders are in favour of the Ministry of Health regulations, so why isn't Novartis speaking out and condemning the legal action? Something to ponder.

Something else to ponder is this boast in the report:

In 2000, Novartis was among the first pharmaceutical companies to sign the United Nations Global Compact, a set of 10 principles covering environmental issues, human rights, labor standards and anti-corruption efforts. In 2005, former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, appointed Prof. Dr. Klaus M. Leisinger of the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development as his Special Advisor on the Global Compact.

The Global Compact is a voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility initiative introduced in response to calls for regulatory systems. It has no monitoring or enforcement mechanism, relying instead on corporations reporting their good works.

That Novartis is so closely associated with the Global Compact does it no credit. As it stands the Compact is little more than something else for corporations to boast about in their Public Relations materials. We would rather see the Global Compact scrapped and a system that hold corporations to account introduced.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Powdered infant formula is not sterile

Perhaps you already know that powdered infant formula is not sterile. That it may contain pathogens such as salmonella and enterobacter sakazakii despite the pasteurisation process during manufacture. So what are the implications?

This intrinsic contamination is surprisingly commonplace. In one study referenced by the Food and Drug Administration in the US it was found 14% of tins tested were infected with Enterobacter Sakazakii. This led to a warning that powdered infant formula should not be used for at risk babies, particularly premature babies. See

Enterobacter Sakazakii can lead to meningitis, a very serious disease that can kill. The issue came to prominence in 2001 when a 5-day-old child died after being fed with Nestlé Beba infant formula believed to have been contaminated. See

The US FDA said ready-to-feed formula should be used if formula feeding is necessary for premature and other at risk infants because this is sterile. (The better option for premature infants, of course, is pasteurised human milk from donors if mother's milk is not available - this does contain living substances: antibodies and other anti-infective properties that protect the infant).

In 2005 the World Health Assembly called for warnings on labels of powdered infant formula and improved instructions. See Resolution 58.32

This is something we support and have called on the baby food companies to support this. We raised it at the Nestlé shareholder meeting in 2005, but Nestlé has no plans to put warnings on its labels until compelled to do so. Now we are calling for the Codex Alimentarius Commission (see my blog on the food code) to finalise standards.

Why? It is not to scare mothers from using formula, though the risks of contamination do highlight again the advantages of breastfeeding. No, the reason is to protect infants who are formula fed.

The advice now being given by the Department of Health and Food Standards Agency in the UK is to mix up formula with water at 70 degrees centigrade as this will kill any pathogens in the powder. It then has to cool (and at our suggestion the Department of Health added to their advice that care is taken to ensure the milk has reached a safe temperature). Formula once made up should not be kept for long periods and bottles not made up in advance or bacteria may reproduce in it to dangerous levels. So unused formula should be discarded. You can read the Department of Health advice at

UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative has labels in many different languages at:

The industry has responded with warnings that mixing up formula with water at this temperature could lead to an increase in cases of scalding of carers mixing up feeds. I thought they may have a point until I made my next cup of tea, using water that had JUST BOILED!! Fortunately the tea-making operation proceeded without scalding.

We are suggesting research is done on the possibility of mixing up powdered formula with a smaller volume of just boiled water or water that has cooled to 70 degrees and then making up the water with cool, previously boiled water (that could be kept stored in the fridge). This could provide a way to prepare a feed which does not have to be left to cool. Any academics interested in investigating, please contact us.

The question about what warning and instructions to be put on labels is now being considered by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), which has just published some research it did into the understanding of the expression 'not sterile'. It seems few mothers or health workers were aware that powdered formula is not sterile and are concerned to find this out.

There are few proven cases of infection linked directly to contaminated formula - the FSA suggests just 50-60 cases in the last 40 years. There is likely to have been under reporting and the higher incidence of bottle-fed infants being hospitalised in rich countries and dying in poor settings may be due to contamination as well as the better known risks of artificial feeding.

Parents, of course, want to know what to do to reduce the risks. There were some comments in the FSA study about the lack of information on preparing bottles - implying that there are shortcomings with information on labels and that the mass of promotion done by baby milk companies does little to provide information. This finding also implies a need for greater dissemination of the resources mentioned above for mothers who decide to bottle feed. See

Last year we were involved in a news story when Hipp tried to promote itself as more ethical than its competitors by claiming it was publicising the new guidance from the Department of Health.

There were several shortcomings with the information was providing, however. It did not give the information that powdered formula is not sterile. Nor did it warn of the risks of contamination with Enterobacter Sakazakii. It did not advise on mixing up formula with water at 70 degrees centigrade.

The one piece of information that Hipp was promoting was to throw away unused feed and to make up a fresh bottle every time. Now, why could that be?

For the full story of Hipp with lots of links to supporting documents, see