Monday, January 28, 2008

Brendan O'Neill attacks those calling for a regulated formula market

Brendan O'Neill, who describes himself as a journalist, has once again misrepresented what I have written and, once again, I have asked him to make a correction. Let us hope that, once again, he will do so.

This time his misrepresntation comes in a rant against 'militant lactavism' in an article published on The Guardian website.

You can find his article, "The Tyranny of Militant Lactavism", at:

He criticises the call for controls on the marketing of the baby food industry, stating: "The implicit political message of the restrictions on infant formula is that Bottlefeeding is Bad, and the mums who do it ought to be ashamed of themselves."

As I posted in my first comment to the article:

You write: "The implicit political message of the restrictions on infant formula is that Bottlefeeding is Bad, and the mums who do it ought to be ashamed of themselves."

This is rubbish and you know it.

The Baby Feeding Law Group, a coalition of UK health worker professional bodies and mother support groups, submitted a report to the government consultation on the regulations.

It was called: "Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula".

The campaign to bring UK regulations into line with international standards, as many other countries have done, is to protect all mothers and babies. The implicit political message is: "Companies should meet their obligations to comply by international standards and all parents have the right to make an informed choice, free from commercial pressure."

No-one should try to make a mother feel guilty over the way she feeds her child. Your attempt to present the issue in such a polarised way helps to incite the breastfeeding/bottle-feeding argument you criticise.

In you apoplexy over 'lactavists' and your apparent desire to present the companies as on the side of the angels, you neglect to mention the willful neglet the formula industry show to their customers - and here I am talking about those who choose to use formula, for whavever reason.

This has been brought to your attention before, but let me remind your readers. [Continues on the Guardian website].

----extract ends

But later I noticed that his article linked to this blog. That prompted me to post another comment:

---extract begins

Brendan, I have just noticed that you link to my blog as the reference for the word 'thoughtless' in your sentence:

"Today a moral divide is made between responsible and thoughtful women who breastfeed, and "unaware" or "thoughtless" women who bottlefeed."

The blog was about promotion for Wyeth/SMA formula in OK! magazine linked to the model Jordan/Katie Price. See:

You have been a little bit naughty citing that blog as evidence of your alleged 'moral divide' haven't you?

Let me put the comment on 'thoughtlessness' into context by quoting more from the blog than your half word:

"Some of the comments on the discussion boards are strongly critical of Katie, not for formula feeding or for holding these views, but for putting them forward in the article. For some she is a villain.

"It brings to mind a piece of wisdom that has served me well: don't automatically attribute to ill will what can also be explained by thoughtlessness."

So the suggestion of possible 'thoughtlessness' was explicitely not about formula feeding or favouring formula, but about how she spoke about this in a mass-circulation magazine.

This is what I wrote in that same blog:

"While it is Katie's decision how she feeds her child and no-one should set out to make a mother feel guilty, the comments will have an impact in idealizing and glamourising formula feeding. Materials dealing with infant feeding are required to include certain information by article 21 of the UK law. It is for the authorities to decide how culpable OK! is for not including this information.

"It may be a naive hope, but I do hope that Katie Price, Jordan, will react to the concern over the product promotion by supporting the campaign to hold baby food companies to account. As I state and re-state many times, our work aims to benefit mothers and babies who formula feed as well as those who breastfeed. Here is one thing we are looking for help with - providing accurate information on how to mix up formula safely. Katie is using ready-to-feed formula which is sterile, but very expensive. The majority of mothers will use powdered infant formula, which is not sterile...

"Hopefully we can persuade celebrities that there is no contradiction between a decision to formula feed and taking care over public comments and encouraging government action over aggressive marketing and support for breastfeeding."

So much for your 'moral divide', Brendan.

Clearly it supports your agenda - and that of the formula companies for whom you sometimes work (as referenced in other comments) - to misrepresent the position of others, just as you did with your spiked on-line article on the Joradn piece in OK! magazine. You kindly added a correction to your spiked article. I hope you will do so here and try to be a little more honest and accurate in future.


His earlier article on the OK! Magazine promotion was called: "Hands off Jordan's Breasts!". You can find it here:

He attacks Baby Milk Action as 'militant lactavists' having a go at Jordan for bottle feeding. I contacted Mr. O'Neill to point out that my quote about the OK! Magazine article said:

"How Jordan feeds her child is her decision. No-one should try to make a mother feel guilty about how she feeds her child, our responsibility is to ensure all mothers receive accurate information on infant feeding and support if they have problems breastfeeding. My anger is directed at Wyeth which knows its campaign in OK! magazine promoting SMA formula breaches marketing requirements adopted by the World Health Assembly."

I asked for a correction and he posted a grudging addition to his footnote, not mentioning Baby Milk Action: "Some have criticised the formula milk companies rather than Katie Price herself; for example, see the Boycott Nestle blog."

Now I won't automatically attribute to malice what can be explained by lax fact checking, but I do note that Mr. O'Neill has a financial connection with the baby food industry. As someone posted on the latest article on The Guardian website:

---comment from BVGeesten

Q: "What do infant formula milk, cigarettes and alcohol have in common?"

A: The fact that all of the industries that make these products have historically poured money into phoney thinktanks and front groups to try to deflect criticism, and push the idea that any attempt to regulate their activities is "irrational" and "hysterical".

Brendan, why don't you tell us a bit more about the relationship between your online magazine, Spiked Online, and the "Infant and Dietetic Foods Association"?

On page 10 of your "Brand Manager's Pack" ( it says that you've "worked with" the INFORM campaign, which is apparently "an Infant and Dietetic Foods Association (IDFA) initiative on behalf of the UK infant formula manufacturers SMA Nutrition, Nutricia (Cow & Gate, Milupa) and Farley/Heinz." (

Also quite striking is the fact that all 8 articles on breastfeeding on the Spiked website ( seems to take exactly follow the industry line in attacking what you call "militant lactivism".

Sorry to bang on, but in your "Brand Manager's Pack" it also says that one of the services you offer to businesses is that you can help them with "brand alignment", or they can "commission a Spiked series". I'm curious - how much does it cost to "commission a Spiked series", and what would I get for my money?

In the name of robust, open debate, free speech etc., do you not agree that journalists with financial links to a particular industry ought to declare any such affiliations up front?

---comment ends

A good point.

IDFA, of course, is the industry body that has taken the UK government to the High Court and succeeded in having new formula marketing regulations suspended, so Mr. O'Neill's article comes at an opportune time for the industry.

Whether his financial connection with INFORM/IDFA continues or not, taking half a word from a blog to build a false argument is not good journalism.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brendan O'Neill gets a lot of things wrong.