Monday, January 21, 2008

The blog is back and we're in court

This blog has a longer holiday than I do over the Christmas and New Year period. There has been a lot going on in the past few weeks and the updates will start coming here.

If you are glad to see this blog back in business, how about making a small donation by clicking the button on the right? Baby Milk Action relies on your support to keep going and staff are currently on reduced hours due to lack of income, so it would really help.

We are also involved in a legal battle with the baby food industry so need all the help we can get.

As you are probably only too well aware, we have been campaigning for the UK government to introduce marketing requirements for infant formula and follow-on formula in line with international standards, as many other countries have done. It has refused to do so, rejecting not only our recommendations (submitted as the Baby Feeding Law Group, a coalition of UK health professional bodies and mother support groups), but of its own advisors. The government basically followed the industry line of doing the minimum possible to strengthen a law that was already failing to protect mothers and babies.

Many marketing practices are illegal under the existing legislation, but this is virtually never enforced. The government is currently consulting on new Guidance Notes which are intended to resolve arguments over interpretation which tie the hands of Trading Standards officers and mean that the Advertising Standards Authority dismisses most complaints without even an investigation.

The good news was the government promised to keep the situation under review and introduce new regulations in a year's time if the industry did not clean up its act.

The reaction of the industry to this?

It has taken the government to the High Court and has succeeded in having the new regulations suspended. It argues that they came as a surprise and it was not consulted. For the government, the Food Standards Agency says it consulted over the course of three years. The legal challenge by the industry aims to stop the regulations from coming into force before 2010 and is perhaps intended to delay the review that could see the regulations strengthened further.

In the meantime the industry has stepped up its aggressive marketing practices, churning out as much idealizing gumph as it can before it is stopped from doing so.

The cynicism of the industry is demonstrated by this comment from Roger Clarke, director general of the IDFA (the Industry and Dietetic Food Association): "The industry carries out a very important role in terms of being able to give people advice on safe preparation or choice of product once they have made their decision."

This appeared in The Sunday Herald yesterday. See:

I left the following comment:

How cynical of Roger Clarke, representing the formula industry, to state: "The industry carries out a very important role in terms of being able to give people advice on safe preparation or choice of product once they have made their decision."

One of the labelling issues health campaigners want companies to address is their failure to provide warnings that powdered formula is not sterile and simple instructions on how to reduce the risks in line with government and international guidance to parents. The industry lobbied against this being a requirement in the law and succeeded in having it appear only as a recommendation in guidance notes.

A spot survey of company telephone 'carelines' found that advisors give incorrect information about reconstituting formula. Analysis of company websites has found information contradicting the advice of the Food Standards Agency and Chief Medical Officer on when to use soya formulas. Analysis of promotion shows all companies claim their formula is better than competitors, perhaps acceptable if we are talking about washing powder, but does nothing to help parents decide which formula to use if they are formula feeding for whatever reason, and undermines the independent advice available from health workers.

Baby Milk Action, on behalf of the Baby Feeding Law Group, is submitting evidence to the High Court.

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