Friday, March 14, 2008

Questions over Nestlé policy and product distribution in Africa

Yesterday I faxed Nestlé's Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Brabeck, about Nestlé's bizarre decision to defend its infant formula supermarket promotion in South Africa and also to offer assistance over Nestlé's latest formula recall.

I am seeking an explanation as to why Nestlé is advertising infant formula in Africa, let alone defending the practice, when the Nestlé Infant Formula Policy for Developing Countries states: "NESTLE DOES NOT advertise or promote infant formula to the public."

It could be that I have forgotten what words mean and somehow Nestlé's point-of-sale promotion (which the company itself has described as 'advertising') is somehow consistent with its statement that it does not advertise or promote. To help me out, please take a look at Nestlé's stated commitment and let me know what you think:

The issue with the latest formula recall is a batch of Lactogen infant formula containing higher levels of zinc, iron and copper. This has been causing illness according to a Nestlé spokesman quoted by Reuters on Wednesday:

"'We have received 15 customer complaints since our announcement yesterday ... We have been told that the babies have been vomiting or having diarrhoea,' Theo Mxakwe, spokesman for Nestle South Africa, told Reuters."

The batch code is 73100179LI.

Two weeks ago Nestlé recalled Nan 2 formula for a similar reason, as the South African Daily Despatch notes. That batch code is

According to media reports Nestlé has announced the recall in
South Africa, Botswana and Zambia.

The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) monitors Nestlé practices across Africa and is looking out for the tins.

I have asked Mr. Brabeck to confirm if any other countries are involved.

In 2005 Nestlé shifted its Zimbabwe operation to South Africa as a cost cutting exercise. Problems soon after the shift resulted in parents in Zimbabwe who had been using its formula desparately seeking supplies and the South African HIV intervention programme, which provides formula for some mothers, experienced shortages.

In the past I have personally found formula from South Africa in Mozambique.

In other recalls Nestlé has been reluctant to take action. In 2005, an Italian Judge ruled that Nestlé formula should be seized by the police as Nestlé had failed to order a recall over contamination with chemicals from the label printing process identified months before.

In China in 2005 Nestlé refused to order a recall of formula with higher-than-permitted levels of iodine until consumer action prompted a re-think. The China Daily reported Nestlé had responded : "with the speed and alacrity of a sailor drunk on shore leave."

In 2002 when Beba infant formula was found contaminated with Enterobacter Sakazakii after the death of a child in Belgium, Nestlé initially only recalled the formula within the European Union as this had been ordered by authorities, but IBFAN found the formula from the same batch on sale elsewhere.

For links to supporting documents see:

So the point is, the formula in this latest case could be in countries other than those indicated publicly.

The IBFAN network is doing what it can to check and I hope that Mr. Brabeck will cooperate by providing clarification on where the formula is sold.

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