Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lesson from Wyeth: two steps forward, one step back

To recap. At the turn of the year the Food Standards Agency warned baby food companies in the UK that most of the health claims they were making about infant formula are illegal under legislation introduced in 1995. Companies have apparently said they will change. Wyeth is the first to do so, with new labels being manufactured from 1 February 2007, which are now starting to appear on the shelves (judging by the use-by dates, which are two years after this).

Most illegal claims and the 'now even closer to breastmilk slogan' has gone. As this shot below shows.

Click here for a hi-resolution picture.

Wyeth has cunningly changed the SMA logo so the M appears to be a breastfeeding mother, crossed with a love heart. Yesterday I posted an animation picking up on this.

The tin contains claims which I believe to be illegal as they are not on the list of claims permitted in the UK law. These are 'improved protein balance' and 'easily digested'. Claims that are permitted relate specifically to composition (such as 'iron enriched' or 'sucrose free'), not about claimed benefits. See:

The under-lid flier further idealises the formula. This again features the slogan 'Love the milk you give' used on the label.

This states, in part:

----Quote begins

Great new formula

New SMA Gold has changed its protein balance, a significant nutritional advance to bottle-fed babies. In fact no other formula in the UK or ROI comes close to new SMA Gold.

Our new formula is expertly balanced to meet all the nutritional needs of your baby, whilst being gentler than ever on your baby's tummy.
---quote ends

I don't know about you, but whenever I see these 'new improved' type claims it brings home the shortcomings of the previous version and raises questions about the present one, for surely another 'significant advance' is just around the corner. If something is required to reduce the negative impact on infant health of formula feeding, we want to see it a requirement for all formulas, not a promotional strategy.

Remember, Wyeth used to suggest its previous version was 'now even closer to breastmilk'. But following the logic of Wyeth's new promotion old SMA Gold, like other brands, does not 'come close to new SMA Gold'.

Think about that. According to the UK Department of Health, 34% of women in a survey incorrectly believed that infant formula, such as old SMA Gold, was the same or almost the same as breastfeeding. Old SMA Gold was promoted with a whole heap of claims: "Helps to support immunity", "Easily digested", "Helps brain and eye development". Which aside from being illegal, gave the impression that 'closer to breastmilk' is not far off from being the same. As I have analysed previously claims made by baby food companies do not stand up to scrutiny. See:

Now we learn that old SMA Gold doesn't come close to new SMA Gold.

Wyeth knew about its shortcomings, otherwise why would it be claiming changing the protein balance is a 'significant nutritional advance'?

Just as Wyeth knows about the shortcomings of its new improved formula.

Which is why companies should not be the ones to provide information on infant feeding to parents. The World Health Assembly says this should be the responsibility of health workers.

Even with the crackdown by UK authorities, Wyeth tries to imply equivalence between its formula and breastfeeding with its new logo. Do take a look at my posting from yesterday responding to this.

A final thought, the under-lid leaflet includes the required 'Important notice', which states, in part, "Breast feeding is best for babies".

In the past this was used almost as an endorsement for the formula. If breastmilk is good and the product said it was 'now even closer to breastmilk' the formula appears to be good too.

Wyeth can't get away with that subversion of the breast is best message any more, except through the subliminal message of its logo. Which could be viewed as progress of a sort.

The crackdown has had some impact. So two steps forward for the campaign to protect infant health and mothers' rights and one step back because of Wyeth's response.

Wyeth does not, of course, admit that it has made the changes to its labels because it was told they were illegal. Alongside the promotion of its careline and website (where the illegal claims continue to be made) it states this on the under-lid flier:

---Quote begins

Great new look

As we hope you've noticed, SMA Gold has a great new look.

After listening to mums and dads, we've given all our packs a great new look.

So it is now even easier to choose the right product for your baby.
---quote ends

Ho, ho, ho. Scared of being hauled before a judge more like.

Wyeth has shown it will change if forced to do so.

Let us hope the authorities will continue to press for full compliance with the law and an end to all illegal claims and images. They have the power to enforce the law introduced 12 years ago. Will they do so?


Anonymous said...

Formula milk should never, ever have been made commercially available. Whilst it is, matters of this nature (ahem, theres nothing natural about formula milk) are always going to be a huge problem. Artificial formula should be a 'prescription only' medical grade product reserved for infants with health problems who 'genuinely' need it. It staggers belief the depths of cunningness these companies will sink to in order to defy legislation, promote their inferior products and undermine the nutritional importance of human breastmilk.
As well as a danger to infant health formula feeding should also be more publicly highlighted as a contributor to 'global warming' via manufacturing, worldwide distribution, packaging, waste and un-recyclable plastics used to administer feeds.
Infants can't make choices about their health - they should have an automatic human right to the healthiest source of nutrition - human milk for human babies!

Anonymous said...

still sickening isnt it. babymilk in powder when it practically grows on trees, lovelly booby shaped ones at that, for free!
the subversion of the advertisments is something that close tabs should be kept on. what can you do? if you guys werent there to keep an eye on it, who would?
i like sarahs, albeit mildly militant, (in all the right ways sarah!) opinion that these baby milk formulas should be "prescription only", and am as appalled as she is regarding the spread of waste, wasted energy and pointless land use (cutting the forest to clear the land to grow the cows that make the milk that no-one needs... sad crazy world) another useless product we could well do without.
keep the bastards pinned down babymilk action, keep their back to the wall, watch them closely, and dont let them continue to get away with murder...
keep it up, my mum would be well chuffed that this is kept a burning issue. i hope that one day, thanks to Babymilk Action, infant health is considered more important than profit.

Anonymous said...

i have fed all my children on formula and they are all very healthy and happy children.
i strongly disagree with what has been said that formula should be precription only.
women should be able to make the choice themselves wheather they want to breast feed or bottle without out people critising them

Anonymous said...

In an ideal world breastfeeding would be like falling off a log but after a 60 hour labour involving all mannner of interventions a very drugged up baby came into the world and found breastfeeding very hard going. I was also completely exhausted and so by the end of week 4 very sadly gave in due to sheer overwhelming pain, exhaustion, sleep deprivation etc - i am not superhuman. I'm so glad formula milk was there but wish more than anything I could have breastfed for much longer. Pls, pls, pls could everyone who so passionatley campaigns for babies health could you support women who are having problems. all too often I was made to feel as I should 'put up and shut up' and told not to use 'bad' but helpful things like dummies or the odd formula top-up (which i've since found from other mothers helped get them back on track with BF) -all the criticism just pushed me towards the formula feeding even more because i was feeling so low. breastmilk isn't free and growing on trees - it's damn hard work and after having a baby you need lots of love and support. xxx