Monday, June 23, 2008

UK Government to be quizzed by UN Committee on its failure to act on formula marketing

As part of our UK campaign we have submitted reports to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. This reviews how well governments are doing on meeting their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Governments are called every five years to report. A network of Non-Governmental Organisations in the UK has also submitted a report, to which we contributed. We also submitted our own report via our partners, the Geneva Infant Feeding Association, which has been assisting national groups over the years.

The good news is, the Committee has written to the Government on 16 June specifically asking: "Please provide further information on the measures taken to implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.”

With good cause the Government should be shuffling its feet and bowing its head in embarassment.

In 2003, when the UK was last reviewed, the final report called for the UK Government to implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, which it had failed to do.

In 2004 the Government introduced a public health white paper saying it would work for stronger regulations at the European Union level and strengthen UK legislation following this.

However, when it comes to present evidence in September the UK has little positive to say about its implementation of the Code. The EU Directive does not include key provisions that health advocactes - and the UK Government - was calling for, such as a prohibition on the advertising of follow-on formula as required by the Code.

The new Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations that came into force this year contain many of the same loopholes as the previous version. The recommendations of health advocates and even the Government's own expert advisors were not followed.

Not only are the regulations weak, they are poorly enforced, as our recent report to Trading Standards shows. See:

You can download the Government's submission from February 2008 and the Committee's request for additional information at:

It is article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that relates to breastfeeding. I will include the relevant parts of the response below. There is much that is commendable being done in the promotion and support of breastfeeding, which we have welcomed in our own submissions. However, protection is sadly lacking, not only with implementation and enforcement of the Code and subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions, but in the protection of a mother's right to breastfeed in public.

Ironically the report includes the following: "The Breastfeeding etc (Scotland) Act 2005 is the first of its kind in the UK, which makes it an offence to stop or prevent a person feeding milk to an infant in a public place where the infant is legally entitled to be. Scotland is one of the few countries in the world to offer such protection in national legislation."

If you read this blog last week you will be struck by the contrast between highlighting the Scottish Act and the apparent plans for lesser measures in the Single Equality Bill. While the Scottish Act protects mothers breastfeeding or formula children up to two years of age in a public place, the Government was saying last year that the Single Equality Bill would protect breastfeeding in public upto one year of age, and more recent reports suggest this will only be for babies up to 6 months of age. See:

There is even a risk that the Single Equality Bill will conflict with and undermine the Scottish Act.

The Committee has a wide range of issues to address over the course of the two-day meeting, but we will do all we can to ensure that the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding are given adequate attention.

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A further call for the Government to implement the Code may combine with the Government's current review of the legislation (to which we are contributing information) to bring in the long-overdue protection for breastfeeding and for babies fed on formula, as many other countries have done.

Here is the key section from the report.

---extract from the UK Government's report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

Promotion of breastfeeding

336. The UK Government and devolved administrations continue fully to be committed to the promotion of breastfeeding, which is accepted as the best form of nutrition for babies. The Government has adopted the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) guidance and recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding alongside the introduction of complementary feeding.

337. The UK Government has a commitment to increase support for breastfeeding as part of its strategy to reduce health inequalities. The Priorities and Planning Framework 2003-2006 set local targets to increase breastfeeding initiation rates by 2 percentage points per year, focusing particularly on disadvantaged groups. This target has been included in Local Delivery Plans to support the national target on infant mortality for the planning period to 2008.

338. The Department of Health works in partnership with NGOs and other organisations, including UNICEF, to encourage hospitals to implement Baby Friendly Initiative policies. As part of this work, a new leaflet “Off to the best start” is intended to assist health professionals in teaching parents why breastfeeding is the healthiest start. Also, for the first time the Department has launched TV and radio “Filler” advertisements which will continue throughout 2007 and beyond to raise the profile of breastfeeding in England and Wales.

339. The Department of Health support the principles of the International Code for Marketing of Breast-milk substitutes and the relevant WHO resolutions, which are reflected in the European Directive on Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations and in the UK legislation.

340. The European Directive 91/321/EEC on Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula gives individual Member States the power to go further than the Directive in terms of restricting the advertising of infant formulas. It is in this context that the Department of Health has made a commitment in the Choosing Health: making healthier choices easier to review the relevant provisions of the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (1995), with a view to further restricting the promotion of infant formula.

341. The Department of Health is currently working with Food Standards Agency to look at ways in which the promotion of infant formula milk can be further restricted, through UK Regulations. A consultation on draft Regulations is due to be issued shortly and the final national Regulations will be in force from January 2008.

342. In addition the Healthy Start scheme was rolled out across England, Wales and Scotland in 2006. It provides nutritional support to mothers and infants from low income families. The scheme also provides incentives for mothers to breastfeed as they can obtain, via vouchers, healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables, free of charge.

343. In Scotland, over half of the babies are born in UNICEF baby friendly accredited hospitals, which mean that these hospitals have implemented measures to encourage breastfeeding, as recommended by the WHO. In addition, the Breastfeeding etc (Scotland) Act 2005 is the first of its kind in the UK, which makes it an offence to stop or prevent a person feeding milk to an infant in a public place where the infant is legally entitled to be. Scotland is one of the few countries in the world to offer such protection in national legislation.

344. In Wales, currently 46% of all Welsh births take place in baby friendly hospitals. A Grant Scheme has been established to train breastfeeding peer supporters with a particular focus on young mothers. A Breastfeeding Welcome Scheme has been established to encourage businesses to support breastfeeding mothers.

345. In Northern Ireland, since the development and implementation of the Breastfeeding Strategy there have been significant improvements to breastfeeding support in many hospital and community Trusts. These include the promotion and implementation of the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative, Sure Start programmes involvement in breastfeeding, and the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and peer support programmes.

346. As a result of the above measures breastfeeding initiation rates have been rising across all socio-economic groupings in the UK - 78% in England, 70% in Scotland, 67% in Wales, and 63% in Northern Ireland. The highest incidences of breastfeeding were found among mothers from managerial and professional occupations, those with the highest educational levels, those aged 30 or over, and among first time mothers. The Infant Feeding Survey 2005 published recently shows that 45% of all mothers in the United Kingdom were breastfeeding exclusively at one week, while 21% were feeding exclusively at six weeks. At six months the proportion of mothers who were breastfeeding exclusively was negligible.
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