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.

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