Thursday, November 22, 2007

Industry response to the UK formula regulations - and photographic evidence

There have been reports in all the major dailies in the UK and quite a few websites about the new Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations which the government plans to put before Parliament shortly. It announced these yesterday and launched a consultation on the guidelines to go with them.

You can find out more and follow links to some of the media coverage from our press release at:

As you will see Baby Milk Action or other members of the Baby Feeding Law Group are quoted in most of the reports.

I won't go through what's in the press release again here, but will write highlight two things with the media coverage today.

Firstly, my colleague Patti Rundall, came in with some of the papers and we were looking through them. There was a massive picture in one of the papers of some formula on a supermarket shelf. 'That's my picture!' I exclaimed. Patti didn't believe me, pointing out that formula is sold in a lot of supermarkets. But I was adamant I recognised the picture and quickly pulled it up on our flickr photo archive. We link to this from our website.

You can find the archive at:

A great innovation for hard-pressed picture editors, and one that clearly helped out the paper in question on this occassion. But if you are planning to use an image, please do check out the copyright restrictions. And a fee would be appreciated when possible. We would also like to be informed where images are used.

The second point is the industry position which appeared on the BBC website at:

Roger Clarke, head of the Infant and Dietetic Foods Association, said the new guidelines looked to be a "pretty sensible, measured approach from the government, although industry will still have to look in detail at what is planned".

He added: "All the data suggests that advertising is not a factor when it comes to women's decision to choose infant formula over breastfeeding. There are many other issues, from physical pain to achieving a balanced lifestyle."

This is the same IDFA which opposed any strengthening of the regulations in the consultation just finished. Our press release quotes their response.

So if IDFA is happy with the guidelines that is a bad sign.

In the separate consultation on those we will be calling on your assistance in strengthening them. As I wrote yesterday, the government has said that in the guidelines it will interpret the legislation in light of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly.

The press release links to the draft guidelines. They make interesting reading, well, at least they are if you are like me and see the significance of individual words being included or not.

Whether IDFA will be so supportive when it comes to its submission on the guidelines remains to be seen. For example, what does it really make of the proposal that follow-on formula must be sold in a separate part of the supermarket to the infant formula? The government shied away from banning the promotion of follow-on milk and this is a proposal for stopping follow-on formula promotion functioning to also promote infant formula.

At present the follow-on formula promotions are used to promote the full range. They dominate the infant feeding sections, and most people wouldn't register they escape through loopholes in the law because they don't specifically mention infant formula.

If you want to see some pictures, visit our photo archive.


Anonymous said...

Mike. One piece of wording I was wary of is "32. Manufacturers are also encouraged to clearly state the age range that the product is suitable for on the front of the packaging." [p9, my emphasis]

I also wondered about the mandatory 'Important Notice' text (stating breastfeeding is better than formula milk). Do we know what the wording of this notice is? I wondered if breastfeeding is described in the Important Notice as 'the normal method' or the(unattainably) 'ideal' one?

Rob Ager

Mike Brady said...

Thanks Rob. We need to study these carefully and will submit a response to the consultation, which runs to February.

The problem with this route of guidelines is much is far too woolly. Another example is there is only a recommendation to warn parents that powdered formula is not sterile and may contain bacteria.

The industry fails to give these warnings at present (and misinforms on labels and carelines as I've written previously), so is it accepting of the guidelines because it doesn't see them as requiring it to make changes as bringing these issues into the regulations as requirements would have done?

It is not yet settled that the regulations are done and dusted. They have to be approved by a scrutiny committee in Parliament - though that cannot make changes it can block them. We also have the possibility of seeking a judicial review, though that would be expensive.

There needs to be some reflection and consultation on the next steps.