Friday, May 30, 2008

Baby food companies defend promotion in supermarkets

As I mentioned yesterday, the responses to the UK consultation on Guidance Notes to accompany our new formula regulations have been published.

The baby food industry has objected to many provisions, including the recommendation that labels warn parents that powdered formula is not sterile and how to reduce the risks from possible contamination with harmful bacteria.

Here is something else the industry does not like. This is the British Retail Consortium:

We also feel that the guidance goes beyond the legislation suggesting best practice guidance. The purpose of the guidance should be made clear. We arespecifically concerned about paragraph 49 of the guidance which suggests that‘shelf-talkers’ and other in-store promotional devices for follow-on formulae are not used in the vicinity of infant formulae. We are especially concerned about the unreasonable suggestion that a follow-on formula has to be located in a different part of the store to infant formula. This is gold plating, as this is not laid down in the legislation. As best practice this proposal is completely unjustified.

Well, let's see why the authorities think it is justified. Here is an example of promotion in Tesco in Cambridge:

Companies use claims that are illegal on infant formula to draw attention to the formula section of supermarkets, in this case, Tesco.

The claim 'with prebiotic care to support you baby's natural immune system' is illegal on infant formula (for use from birth). When a similar expression was used in an advertisement for follow-on formula (for use from 6 months), the Advertising Standards Authority investigated and found it was not substantiated by scientific evidence.

This is the objection raised by the Infant and Dietetic Food Association (IDFA):

49 Goes beyond the legislation, the proposal to locate infant and follow-on formula in different parts of store may readily lead to confusion amongst parents who may start to introduce inappropriate foods and drinks to the diet of a six month old infant e.g. cows’ milk etc if the existence of follow-on formula is not clear to them. In addition, this is simply not practical in small stores like convenience stores, corner shops and pharmacies.

This argument is a little bizarre. The position of the World Health Assembly and the Department of Health is that follow-on formula is an unnecessary product. It was introduced as a strategy to by pass the marketing restrictions placed on infant formula. There is no reason why infant formula cannot be used beyond six months with the introduction of other foods if a child is not being breastfed.

If companies are concerned that parents may use cow's milk instead of follow-on formula after 6 months, then surely it makes more sense to put the follow-on formula with the cow's milk.

The real reason companies want to keep infant feeding products together is so promotion for follow-on formula also draws parents to the infant formula, similarly branded and labelled and on the same shelves. They also want to capture customers, so they progress from the infant formula, to the follow-on formula and complementary foods, all similarly branded. Our 2004 report Checks and Balances in the Global Economy contains the following:

The Sales Director of Cow and Gate/Milupa, Ian Thomas, is quoted as saying in 1997: ‘We suggest milk is merchandised on the left hand side of the fixture, followed closely by an early weaning block – jars and packet foods from 4 months – to stop mums drifting into home-made foods.’

Placing the follow-on formula elsewhere disrupts these marketing strategies, which could impact on how successfully companies undermine breastfeeding and cost the companies money. Which is their real concern.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Responses to UK consultation on formula Guidance Notes published

Many thanks to everyone who sent messages regarding the UK Government's Guidance Notes for the new formula regulations, supporting our comments.

The Food Standards Agency has just published the responses with their comments. You can find these at:

There were 434 individual responses supporting our position.

Company responses are very telling. For example, the Infant and Dietetic Food Association is opposed to warning parents that powdered infant formula is not sterile and how to reduce the risks. It says:

We do not support the alternative wording proposed in the guidance notes on the grounds that this may be alarmist and not easily understood by the consumer. Such a warning statement could lead consumers to use inappropriate products such as other powdered milk or other liquids (not infant or follow-on formulae) which do not have such warnings

The FSA reply to this is:

FSA-funded focus group research found that caregivers were concerned that powder formula was not sterile. Overall, as it poses a potential risk to babies, parents and healthcare professionals agreed that information about non – sterility and what it means should be clearly communicated to parents, so that they can make informed decisions and choices.

Unfortunately the government has not made it a legal requirement for companies to put warnings on labels and instructions on how to reduce risks. So it seems unlikely that they will do so. Will it take more unnecessary deaths before the government takes action?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

WABA video contest 2008

We are a member of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA).

WABA ran a competition for film clips about breastfeeding and the theme of 'Going for Gold' for World Breastfeeding Week, to take place in August. WABA states: "In conjunction with the Olympics next August, WBW 2008 calls for greater support for mothers in achieving the gold standard of infant feeding: breastfeeding exclusively for six months, and providing appropriate complementary foods with continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond."

It has posted the winning entries on its website at:

Here is one of the clips, from India.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Study day on Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies

We work with the Emergency Nutrition Network to help ensure that responses to natural disasters and other emergency situations are appropriate when it comes to infant feeding.

Those of you directly involved in this area may be interested in the following study day in June at the Institute of Child Health, for which I am posting the announcement here:

Infant and young child feeding in emergencies (IFE)

Wednesday 25th June

Marie McGrath, Felicity Savage, Marko Kerac,

One purpose of the day is to introduce to policy makers and programme managers concerned with infant and young child feeding, the operational issues and special needs of populations in emergency situations. Another purpose will be to increase understanding among emergency relief workers about the practicalities of infant feeding in these settings. The day will also share how the work on IFE has developed, locate IFE in humanitarian initiatives and give practical pointers on where to locate key resources, materials and contacts on IFE.

The day will take as its starting point the Operational Guidance on IFE for Emergency Relief Staff and Programme Managers, and will cover the importance of the issue, policy, co-ordination, assessment, technical interventions and training needs in emergencies. Special infant feeding issues will also be addressed in the morning session, such as artificial feeding, and a collaborative effort to review and improve the management of infants with acute malnutrition. In the afternoon, participants will be asked to think through and discuss how to approach specific situations presented in the form of scenarios with reference to the Operational Guidance on IFE.

10 .00 Introduction and Overview of infant and young child feeding in emergencies
Operational Guidance and reference materials
11.00 Break

11.30 Special feeding challenges –
- Artificial feeding in emergencies
- Managing acute malnutrition in young infants (*MAMI Project)
12.30 Lunch

1.30 Working groups: questions on typical scenarios

2.30 Plenary discussion on the answers to scenario questions

1600 End

The Emergency Nutrition Network (ENN) will participate in the day as a representative of the IFE Core Group, an international interagency concerned with policy guidance and capacity building on IFE.

*The MAMI Project is an ENN led project to review the management of acute malnutrition in infants, in collaboration with the Centre for International Health and Development (CIHD), and Action Contre la Faim (ACF).
For further information on the work of ENN and the MAMI project, visit

Fee £75 including sandwich lunch

If you are interested please contact

Monday, May 26, 2008

New law for Saudi Arabia

Tomorrow a new law comes into force in Saudi Arabia implementing the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods.

According to the website Arab News:

"The law includes 28 articles regarding the marketing of baby milk, food substitutes, baby bottles and pacifiers. It also bans the advertising and the promotion of baby milk and food substitutes, including the offering of free samples at hospitals and clinics."

Free samples and promotional tactics, such as fliers for formula, are amongst the tactics found in monitoring conducted by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) in the Middle East in the past.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Reality check at the Brazilian National Breastfeeding Conference

Today I am due to speak at Brazil's National Breastfeeding Conference about breastfeeding and corporations. As you can imagine I will be talking about the importance of the baby food marketing regulations adopted by the World Health Assembly, the results of monitoring that show these are being systematically broken where there are not enforced regulations and what we can do to change the situation.

I find these meetings refreshing, depressing, challenging and energising.

Refreshing because I have to spend far too much of my time trying to convince people there is a problem of aggressive baby food marketing that needs to be addressed, rather than mobilizing those who are already convinced. With companies such as Nestlé denying any wrong doing and using a wide range of strategies to persuade people it can sometimes be difficult. I call Nestlé strategy 'mid-point bias'. It relies on people thinking the truth must lie somewhere between its position and that of health advocates, such as Baby Milk Action. Nestlé has no qualms about being outright dishonest about its activities, whereas we stick to the truth (and if we couldn't stand by what we say about Nestlé then we would have been sued into bankruptcy long ago). So Nestlé moves the mod-point away from the reality. See:

So the refreshing aspect of these meetings is I am with people who are familiar with what Nestlé and the other companies are doing, because it is part of their daily reality. Our focus is what needs to be done.

The opening address last night from Jean Pierre Allain was recalling the efforts that were made to implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in Brazil - he was an advisor to the process. The industry tried to weaken the regulations, with Nestlé taking the lead and trying to undermine these, including through its financial support to the Paediatric Association. The regulations did come into force 20 years ago, though not as strongly as health advocates wanted. It has taken two revisions to make them as strong as they are today.

The Brazilian campaign is particularly strong, with members of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) coordinating training and monitoring activities across the country. IBFAN Brazil organises the National Breastfeeding Conference every two years and attracts typically over 1,000 participants and a strong programme of national and international experts. I feel very priviliged to be one of them.

I have written previously about how strong the regulations are here. The type of aggressive marketing we see in many other countries does not happen in Brazil. Here concerns are about warning labels on whole milks. We helped with a campaign last year as the industry tried to weaken the wording of the 'Ministry of Health Warning' on labels of whole milk, saying it should not be used for infant feeding. This has been changed to say 'Ministry of Health Information'. Viewed against strategies such as Nestlé's advertising of formula on the shelves in supermarkets in South Africa and it claims on labels that formula provides 'protection', this concern may seem much less serious.

But speaking to a Brazilian colleague, I realised once again why it is such a concern here. And this is where it gets depressing. The concern in many parts of Brazil, particularly the poorer parts, is not that parents are using formula rather than breastfeeding, because many cannot afford formula. It is that they are using unsuitable products such as whole milks and, mentioned time and time again, Nestlé Ninho powdered milk in particular, which is promoted for feeding young children with all sorts of claims of the benefits it will bring.

We have a campaign trying to stop Nestlé promoting Ninho in the infant feeding sections of pharmacies and supermarkets. Nestlé's response is that whole milk is not infant formula so there are not breaking any rules by promoting it in this way! Ninho is typically a third of the price of the infant formula on the shelf next to it and research has shown that in poor communities mothers who bottle feed are more likely to use milks like this than formula. Here is a picture I took in a pharmacy a few years ago, which is on our site at:

These practices continue and people here have to deal with the consequences.

They also want help in stopping them.

I am here in part to talk about the Nestlé boycott because it is seen by Brazilian campaigners as a particularly powerful support for their work in defence of infant health. The fact that Nestlé is one of the most boycotted companies on the planet makes it a little easier to counter its well-resourced lobbying.

I'll be showing the newspaper cutting of the action being taken on the Scottish Parliament mentioned here last week. See:

That solidarity makes a real difference to people, as do the letter writing campaigns, exposés and everything else we, and you, do.

Which I find very energising.

Brazil is a success story in that breastfeeding rates have increased markedly over the past 20 years thanks to the marketing regulations and parallel efforts to promote and support breastfeeding. The median breastfeeding duration has gone from 3 months to 10 months.

It hasn't been easy and there are still challenges. There is a new attack on the baby food marketing regulations I am hearing about and to which we have to respond. I know now I'll have the energy to do it!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Infants surviving on breastmilk in China earthquake

Just a quick mention here today of a link someone sent me with a couple of breastfeeding stories from the China earthquake. The heartbreaking story of a trapped mother who managed to sustain her baby through breastfeeding, though she died herself. And a police woman who has been acting as a wet nurse to some of the orphaned children. See:,4136,165248,00.html

While obviously some infants will be in need of formula, relief agencies do not want you or the companies to send this. It is far better for it to be sourced locally, as I wrote yesterday.

Instead send money.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Don't send formula to Burma or China

Disaster relief agencies have made it clear that they do not welcome donations of infant formula when responding to emergencies such as the cyclone in Burma and the earthquake in China.

To often donated formula is distributed without care and undermines breastfeeding. In addition labels are often in the wrong language. For those infants that do need to be formula fed it is far better for agencies to source formula locally and distribute it in a carefully targeted way.

So please don't send donations of formula. It is far better to send money.

If you are in the UK or other countries in the European Union it is actually illegal to export formula with labels in the wrong language.

We have worked closely with the Emergency Nutrition Network. See its website for appropriate responses at:

Monday, May 19, 2008

Scottish boycott campaign and Nestlé demos

As our press release on the boycott demonstrations on Saturday mentioned, a member of the Scottish Parliament, Elaine Smith MSP, introduced a motion calling for a re-think of contracts awarded to Nestlé to supply bottled water.

According to a report in the Scottish Sunday Express (18 May) some of the 5 councils known to have contracts, worth a reported £ 5 million, are starting to do so. Indeed, one has responded to complaints about the supplier and already switched. We have seen previously that if a council assumes responsibility to provide bottled water and significant numbers of people object to it being sourced from Nestlé, the council has legitimate grounds to switch suppliers.

Here is the cutting from the paper (click on it for larger version):

As I said in my quote, used by the paper: "We are very grateful to the efforts of supporters of the boycott to keep Nestlé malpractice in the public eye. It makes a real difference to our work and that of our partners around the world, particularly when Nestlé is using its cheque book and connections to try to undermine the marketing standards introduced to regulate baby food marketing practices and protect infant health. "

Many thanks to everyone who went out leafleting. Please do send us pictures. Thanks to Jean Rowe for these from the demonstration at Nestlé (UK) HQ in Croydon.

Friday, May 16, 2008

No to Nestlé in the Scottish Parliament and at UK demonstrations

Today I have put out a press release about a 'No to Nestlé' campaign launched in the Scottish Parliament by Elaine Smith MSP, who is concerned about contracts for bottled water being awarded to the company. If you are in Scotland then why not ask your representative to sign Elaine's motion.

The press release also flags up the demonstrations taking place at Nestlé's UK HQ tomorrow and Body Shop outlets (Nestlé part owns Body Shop). You can download a file to make your own leaflets if you haven't ordered from Baby Milk Action. See:

You can find the press release, with a quote and briefing document from Elaine Smith MSP, at:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

European Union may act over corporate lobbying

Today PR Week is reporting of possible action by the European Union for greater transparency on businesses lobbying it.

Baby Milk Action is given some of the credit for this. See:


The move follows intensive campaigning by health interest group Baby Milk Action, which alleges that food giant Nestlé has taken advantage of unclear lobbying and marketing codes to ‘sweet talk policy makers'.

‘Governments are too heavily influenced by Nestlé,' said Baby Milk Action policy director Patti Rundall.

In the UK, Nestlé is acc­used of targeting the Government with ‘sponsorship and free trips', to promote its powdered baby milk formula. Nestlé denied this. A spokeswoman said: ‘We are totally committed to the protection and promotion of breastfeeding.'

However, Nestlé was this week discovered to have paid for a trip to South Africa by Labour MP Rosie Cooper.

That discovery was reported by the Independent on Sunday, as I mentioned yesterday. See:

It remains to be seen whether the European Union will introduce measures such as logging the contacts they have with business lobbyists.

A watchdog campaigning organisation, called Corporate European Observatory (CEO), tracks the influence of companies such as Nestlé on policy makers at the EU. See:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nestle links to UK Department of Health

Firstly, many thanks to everyone who sent birthday wishes last week!

While having a kind of break, there were still things going on, not least because this is National Breastfeeding Awareness Week in the UK. There was a conference in London which Baby Milk Action attended on Monday. More about that later.

In the build up there was an article in the Independent on Sunday concerning the Members of Parliament that Nestlé took to South Africa in February. Regular readers of this blog will know that one of them, Tom Levitt MP, has since launched a campaign defending Nestlé practices in the country, which comes at a very sensitive time as the South African government is looking to strengthen regulations. It turns out one of the other MPs on the all-expenses-paid trip represents a UK Department of Health minister in Parliament. The Independent led on this in its article Breast vs bottle: the new battleground.

This opens: "Efforts to encourage more women to breastfeed are being threatened by "aggressive" lobbying directed at the Government by the baby milk manufacturing industry, campaigners warned yesterday. The powdered milk manufacturer Nestlé has forged formal links with the Department of Health and took a ministerial aide on an all-expenses-paid trip to South Africa, The Independent on Sunday has discovered."

There is a quote from me: "Time and again we see Nestlé trying to ingratiate itself with health workers and policymakers through gifts, free trips, sponsorship and so-called partnerships. Surely the Government should not look to companies to fund and organise trips such as this. If there is a legitimate public interest in fact-finding in South Africa, it should be publicly funded."

The article did present the issue as 'Breast v. Bottle', missing the point that we are working to protect breastfeeding and babies fed on formula. The introduction to a discussion board accompanying the article similarly missed the point, stating:

"The government is considering calls to ban the big baby milk firms from promoting follow-on formula. But companies like Nestle are mounting fierce lobbying campaigns targeting the Department of Health as well as mums. Should Nestle be allowed to advertise and mums make their own minds up? Or should Nestle be reined in so the government can promote the message that breast is best?"

I commented as follows. See:

---comment on Indy discussion board

This question is a little misleading. Health advocates such as Baby Milk Action have been calling for government action to protect breastfeeding AND to protect babies fed on formula. So-called 'information' provided by companies is always idealizing and often inaccurate. For example, companies boast of the benefits of LCPs and prebiotics in formula, yet independent analysis of the research by bodies such as the respected Cochrane Library finds the claims are not supported. See:

Companies are fighting against requirements that they warn parents who do use powdered formula that it is not sterile and the simple steps that can be followed to reduce the risks from possible intrinsic contamination with harmful bacteria.

For parents to be able to make up their own mind they need accurate, independent information, not company propaganda.

A good illustration of the issue and the dangers of Nestle-funded trips, is the situation in South Africa. One of the MPs on that trip, Tom Levitt MP, has launched a campaign attempting to persuade people Nestle follows high standards in its marketing of infant formula and is defending the company's advertising and labelling in South Africa. This is despite the fact that the Department of Health in South Africa has said Nestle's claims for its NAN infant formula break national labeling laws:

"statements such as "optimal physical and mental development", "activate your baby's immune defences" and "strengthen your baby's natural defences" as indicated on the labels are just some examples of prohibited statements on NAN 1 and 2".

Babies fed on formula are denied the protection from infection provided by breastmilk and so more likely to become sick and in conditions of poverty more likely to die. Those that are fed with formula would be less at risk if Nestle brought warnings and instructions into line with those called for by the World Health Assembly.

The South African government is currently trying to introduce strengthened regulations and it is a disgrace that Tom Levitt, who has also enjoyed free tickets to Wimbledon tennis competition from Nestle, is undermining their efforts. See:

We have requested a meeting with Mr. Levitt many times, so far without success.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Nestle UK demo Saturday 17 May 2008

As highlighted in our last newsletter, the annual demonstration at Nestlé (UK) HQ in Croydon will take place on 17 May 2008 from 11:00 to 12:00.

This marks the anniversary of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981. Nestlé violates the Code more than any other company, which is why it is the target of the boycott.

You can find out more on our website and also find ideas of what to do if you can't make it to Croydon. You can let us know you are coming via a form on the site, or just turn up on the day. Also if you fancy leafleting somewhere else, such as a Body Shop outlet (Nestlé owns 28.8% of L'Oreal, the owner of Body Shop). See:

We had thought of holding International Nestlé-Free Week during the same week, but it did not prove suitable for some of the other countries that mark this week. It will instead be held in the week ending 4 October, to mark the 20th anniversary of the launch of the boycott, which is the best supported in the UK. Nestlé is now one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet. For more information on the boycott and the impact it has in stopping Nestlé malpractice see:

The 17 May comes at the end of UK National Breastfeeding Awareness Week. I'll write more about some of the events taking place during the week tomorrow.