Monday, October 27, 2008

Do we need a World TNC Regulatory Authority?

As companies grow ever larger it becomes harder for governments to regulate them. If a company misbehaves in a country, the government may be reluctant to act. Nestlé threatened to pull out of Zimbabwe if it introduced strong regulations on the marketing of baby foods. When the Philippines was introducing regulations, the US Chamber of Commerce threatened the President with disinvestment.

At the same time, the home country of a company is often reluctant to act because of the contribution a company makes to its economy - and unethical companies that break the rules may make a bigger contribution than those that are forced to abide by the rules. Often there is a double standard where companies are allowed to get away with behaviour abroad that is unacceptable at home. An example of double standards from last week was the claims Nestlé makes for Maggi Noodles in Bangladesh that was ruled as unacceptable in the UK. We campaigned in the past over Nestlé's objection to labelling products in Sri Lanka in three languages, while it uses three languages on labels in Switzerland.

In theory there are minimum standards. Companies are called on to abide by the World Health Assembly marketing requirements independently of government measures, but they do not do so. Where there is independently monitored and enforced regulations or pressure from campaigns such as the Nestlé boycott companies can be forced to comply, showing it is not impossible to do so, but where national measures are not in place or not enforced there is currently no way to hold corporations to account.

As a member of a Task Force of the UN System Standing Committee on Nutrition I contributed a chapter to a book on 'Global Obligations for the Right to Food' about holding corporations to account. This draws on my experience dealing with Nestlé and other companies and argues that there needs to be an international regulatory framework for when national measures fail. The book is available at:

We are building alliances to promote regulatory frameworks in place of the voluntary UN Global Compact system, which has no monitoring or enforcement system.

As part of this process I have submitted a summary of the proposals from my chapter for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy, an international campaign where people vote on the action they want to see taken on global problems. Speaking in my personal capacity, I am particularly fond of the Simultaneous Policy approach, because of its focus on solutions. The campaign does not protest against current action by government, nor is it calling for changes existing policy as such. Both of these approaches are important. The Simultaneous Policy has a parallel approach, promoting an international democratic discussion on what policies people wish to see implemented to address global problems. In other contexts these aspirations are often drastically curtailed by what is possible, what powerful vested interests will tolerate. In the Simultaneous Policy the focus in on the policies we would like to see implemented if we, the people, could decide, if there was a global democratic space where we had a voice. It aims to create that democratic space.

Politicians are simply asked to pledge to implement these policies alongside other governments - and an increasing number are doing so, including in the UK. The theory is that it is easy for politicians to say they will do something if other countries will do so too (such as properlty regulating transnational corporations), partly because simultaneous implementation removes the fear of putting the country at a competitive disadvantage and partly because they may think it will never happen. If politicians are also asked to sign during elections and see votes in it, that's another incentive. Those signing up to the Simultaneous Policy campaign (which is free) are asked to either give a preference at elections to candidates, within reason, who make this pledge, or to encourage their preferred candidate to make it. When there are sufficient politicians who have made the pledge it would become government policy, so building to the day when there are enough governments. On that day the Simultaneous Policy would be ready, with solutions to global problems that have the backing of people around the world.

That's the theory.

At the same time the discussion of policies itself is important for raising awareness and encouraging implementation of them - or aspects of them - through other means. Accordingly I've summarised aspects of the proposal in the Global Obligations to the Right to Food book and submitted this as a call for a World Transnational Corporation Regulatory Authority.

Annual voting on policies is currently taking place until 1 November. Proposals that receive high levels of support are given space in campaign publications and at public meetings, which will be a good way to promote this proposal to a wider audience. You can find out more about this campaign, the proposal for a World Transnational Corporation Regulatory Authority and how to vote on this and other proposals on my personal, dedicated blog at:

For a briefing on the shortcomings with the UN Global Compact system see the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) site at:

Friday, October 24, 2008

On-line monitoring course to improve protection of child rights

I wrote recently how the UK Advertising Standards Authority cleared an advertisement for formula which breaches international marketing standards. See:

A key part of the campaign to have these minimum standards implemented in the UK is monitoring of the baby food companies.

Baby Milk Action is developing an on-line training course for people who are interested in learning more about the marketing requirements, how they are implemented in the UK nd how to monitor.

Wherever you are in the world, we would be delighted if you could complete a short questionnaire about you preferences for the course. You will find this at:

You can find our latest report, produced on behalf of the Baby Feeding Law Group, in our on-line Virtual Shop where it is available as a free download. Printed copies can be purchased, which helps to fund the monitoring project. See:

The cover shows some of the cases featured: Hipp's Goodnight milk promotion, Wyeth's SMA hoody gift to mothers, Heinz launch of its new 'Nurture' brand with promotions in supermarkets and on television and Danone's Cow & Gate advertisement, which the ASA cleared, showing its contempt for child rights and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

It was evidence from this project that was submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to show how baby food companies are marketing formula in the UK. The Committee concluded in its report: "The Committee, while appreciating the progress made in recent years in the promotion and support of breastfeeding in the State party, it is concerned that implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes continues to be inadequate and that aggressive promotion of breastmilk substitutes remains common."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

UK Advertising Standards Authority ruling today shows contempt for child rights

I wrote yesterday about the report on the UK from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child which called for the marketing regulations for baby milk to be implemented. Having received evidence from the monitoring project we coordinate on behalf of the Baby Feeding Law Group it commented that it: "it is concerned that implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes continues to be inadequate and that aggressive promotion of breastmilk substitutes remains common." See:

Three weeks on from that report we see the response from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), an industry-funded, self-regulatory body handed responsibility for regulating print and broadcast advertising.

It has just cleared this Danone television advertisement for its Cow & Gate brand of formula:

Baby Milk Action has issued a press release about this which can be found at:

For a UK audience I would say the ASA ruling is contemptuous two-fingered salute to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

In 2002 the Committee also called on the UK government to implement the marketing requirements.

The government is conducting a review of the regulations. We will continue to submit monitoring evidence to this exposing new company marketing practices and the action (or lack of it) by the authorities.

As a footnote, the ASA has upheld complaints against a Nestlé advertisement for Maggi noodles broadcast on Nepali TV in the UK. It objected to health claims used to promote the noodles. See:

---Extract from ASA ruling on Nestlé Maggi Noodles
We considered that, because we had seen no evidence that the protein in Maggi Noodles would "help to build strong muscles and bones" we considered that the ad was misleading and that Nepali TV should not have broadcast it.


Because we had seen no evidence that the calcium in Maggi Noodles would "help to build strong muscles and bones", we considered that the ad was misleading and that Nepali TV should not have broadcast it in the UK.
---extract ends

Nestlé said there had not been any intention to broadcast it in the UK and the ASA noted that: "Nestle said the ad had been approved for broadcast and complied with the necessary legal requirements in Bangladesh."

Which just goes to show how important health claims are as marketing tools for companies and how important it is to have minimum standards in a globalized world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

UK government condemned once again : "aggressive promotion of breastmilk substitutes remains common" says UN.

One of the reasons we and our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) monitor the baby food industry is to provide information to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Governments that have signed up to the Convention of the Rights of the Child are required to submit a progress report about every five years. Citizens' organisations can do the same and we do so through the Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) and the Geneva Infant Feeding Association (GIFA - a partner in IBFAN).

The UK submitted evidence recently and the Committee issued its report on 3 October. There are a few things I've been saving up to say about this and the UK situation, which I'll look at this week.

In its last report in 2002, the Committee called for the UK government to "adopt the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes." The government made some encouraging noises in its Public Health White Paper in 2004, but this proved to be illusory as when it came to reviewing the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations, it followed the industry line of minimal changes, rejecting the recommendations of health advocates and its own Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.

So hardly any surprise that when the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child considered the evidence we provided and the claims of the government for the action it had taken, it concluded:

---paragraphs 58 and 59
The Committee, while appreciating the progress made in recent years in the promotion and support of breastfeeding in the State party, it is concerned that implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes continues to be inadequate and that aggressive promotion of breastmilk substitutes remains common.

The Committee recommends that the State party implement fully the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The State party should also further promote baby-friendly hospitals and encourage that breastfeeding is included in nursery training.
---quote ends

The government has a review panel looking at the law. Let us hope it will save the government from being embarassed yet again in five years times for failing to protect child rights.

Let us see if the regulatory authorities, Trading Standards and the Advertising Standards Authority, will heed this condemnation and act to protect child rights. The quarterly monitoring reports we are producing will show what happens.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Three things to do on World Food Day 2008

Today is World Food Day.

Here are three things to do to celebrate.

1) Order our 2009 breastfeeding calendar - there can be no food more locally produced and tailored to the needs of the recipient than breastmilk. See:

2) Visit the Nestlé Critics website to find out about concerns over the practices of the World's Largest Food Company (tm). This is the website Nestlé tried to hi-jack in advance of International Nestlé-Free Week last week. Use resources on the Baby Milk Action website to promote Nestlé-Free zones. The Nestlé Critics website is:

3) Order the book Global Obligations for the Right to Food in Baby Milk Action's on-line Virtual Shop. This contains ten chapters on action that can and should be taken to protect and deliver the right to food. My chapter is based on experiences holding the baby food companies to account and proposes action at the international level for cases where national measures fail. See:

I am promoting these proposals both at United Nations level and to other campaigning organisations. The Simultaneous Policy campaign is currently running a vote on policies that have been put forward for inclusion in its package of measures for addressing global problems. See my personal blog for information on how I am promoting the proposals there.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Nestle Critics website - search it out

Nestlé's pretence for trying hi-jack the website we launched for International Nestlé-Free Week (4 - 10 October) was the absurd claim that it was "passing off" as a company website.

Aside from it being obvious when visiting the preview site (and the current site) that it was not a Nestlé website (and it directed people to the company website for the company's words), the meta data for the site, used from the beginning, makes it clear it is not a company site.

Meta data is invisible on the page, but is used by search engines in their listings. An example of this is shown in the screen shot below. This is for a Google search on 'Nestle and melamine'. We have been getting a lot of traffic to the site from this and similar Google and other searches and so I was interested to see how the listing appeared.

On the second page the top item is:

Nestlé reaffirms that all our milk products in China and Hong Kong are absolurely safe, and none are made with milk adulterated with melamene.

The next item is:

Nestlé's 'no melamine found' found in products claim examined
Nestlé's actions speak louder than its words. Visit this site for information on concerns about Nestlé practices.

It is the meta data that appears under the article headline.

I happen to think it is clear which is the Nestlé site and which is not a Nestlé site. The whole point of the site is to provide objective, independent information to people who want to know if Nestlé's words are reflected in its actions.

To further deflate Nestlé's pretence, we are promoting the site with the domain name: rather than the previewed Nestlé's Actions domain name.

We haven't handed the old domain name over to Nestlé however, as we have good reason to be suspicious of what it would put on the site - it has previously hired a secret agent to "pass off" as an activist to gather information on campaigners.

In its press release appearing in the search results above, Nestlé referred to a testing report from The Hong Kong Government's Food and Environmental Health Department. You can find it from a link on the Nestlé Critics site (though curiously there is no link from the press release on the Nestlé company site). There, on the "Unsatisfactory results of testing of Melamine" list, is a Nestlé whole milk. See:

The site is providing a valuable service and, thanks to the way search engines work, people are able to find information they may find useful. Information that very clearly is not coming from Nestlé, but from those with concerns about Nestlé practices.

The site is also being promoted around the world. For launch information in Swedish, for example, see:

Please do link to :

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Logos for promoting Nestlé-free Zones

To mark International Nestlé-Free Week we have received a donation of the following image, apparently created by a campaigner in Switzerland to promote Nestlé-Free Zones there.

To add this or other logos to your site to declare it a Nestlé-Free Zone, use the code you will find on our site, so that it will automatically link back to that. See:

Below is another logo that has been around for most of the past twenty years of the current boycott of Nestlé.

In it's legal challenge to the new Nestlé Critics website, Nestlé tried to assert copyright over this image, despite never raising it during past years. It seemed a little cheeky and stifling of the right to fair comment, but, all the same, we consulted trade mark and copyright lawyers (pro bono - many thanks to them) and are confident Nestlé has no case.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Nestle-free week launch success

Our press release on the successful launch of Nestlé-Free Week is available on our website at:

This picks up on the fact that Nestlé tried to hi-jack the site officially launched on Saturday 4 October. This site has the theme: "Nestlé's actions speak louder than its words". In the first few days there have been over 10,000 views of the site. As someone has commented in the visitors' book: "What an excellent idea to round up all of Nestle's ruthless and underhanded activities and put them all under one handy little link! Well done to all involved. That makes it so much easier to pass it all on!"

For details of how Nestlé tried to hi-jack the site, see:

There's also a fair bit of traffic coming for the article examining the claim Nestlé made in a press release on 22 September saying "no melamine found" in products tested in China. Yet while referring to products on a 'not contaminated' list, there was a whole milk on a 'contaminated' list. The article (which first appeared on this blog) links to the test results and to a briefing from the World Health Organisation on melamine and compares the levels of contamination found in Nestlé's product in China - above the statutory limit, but below WHO's 'tolerable' level - with the far higher levels found in its competitors Sanlu/Fonterra formula that has resulted in thousands of infants being hospitalized and four deaths. The aim is for the site to be recognised as a source of objective and accurate information - as with everything we do. See the article at:

Friday, October 03, 2008

Happy Nestlé-Free Week : 4 - 10 October

The 4 October marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of the current boycott of Nestlé over its aggressive marketing of baby foods in the US. So tomorrow has been selected as the start of International Nestlé-Free Week this year. For ideas on how to promote it see:

What is Nestlé-Free Week? It is a week to tell people about the boycott. If you are a boycotter, you will probably know people who say they can't give up one or other Nestlé product. Ask them to do so just for Nestlé-Free Week, this year and every year until Nestlé makes the required changes to its marketing policies and practices. If you don't boycott all Nestlé products yourself (the focus in the UK is on Nescafé coffee) then give it a try during Nestlé-Free Week. You and your friends and colleagues may find alternatives that you will stick with. Fairly traded products are a good way to go as Nestlé is also criticised over its treatment of coffee farmers and for failing to act on child slavery in its cocoa supply chain.

To mark Nestlé-Free Week this year, we planned the launch of a website to serve as a portal to expert information on all aspects of Nestlé business. Because of the boycott people come to us with concerns other than baby food marketing, so this seemed a good way to make different campaigns mutually supportive (and not counter-productive), while giving us an easy resource to direct people too. I've been talking about this new site, which has the theme "Nestlé's Actions speak louder than its words" on this blog for the past couple of months. Nestlé must have been worried as it tried to hi-jack the site by demanding we hand over the Nestlé's Actions domain name by Monday, 29 September. We refused and the launch has gone ahead, with the site now being promoted as the Nestlé Critics website. Find details of the hi-jack attempt on the site itself at:

If Nestlé thought it would manage to intimidate us into taking the site down so people would not have access to the information, then its strategy badly misfired. With our announcement of the hi-jack attempt, we had over 3,000 visitors to the site in the first 48 hours. You can help to make it even more popular by promoting it as a source of independent information on Nestlé. If you have a website or blog, please link to the address:

Recent information there includes Nestlé hiring someone to pass themselves off as a campaigner to infiltrate the Swiss ATTAC campaign group to gather sensitive and confidential information on campaigners. See:

You'll also find the analysis I also posted on this blog yesterday examining Nestlé's claim about its products in China: 'no melamine found'. That wasn't true at the time, as a Nestlé milk product was on the contaminated list in Hong Kong. Nestlé also used the argument that this toxin (which has led to thousands of babies being hospitalized and four deaths due to high levels in the formula of a competitor - Sanlu/Fonterra), is found in most foods at 'safe' levels. In Taiwan the authorities have called for Nestlé to remove products found with melamine, arguing that there are no acceptable levels for toxins. Nestlé says it: "fails to understand temporary delisting request". See:

While there are many concerns raised about Nestlé practices, the boycott we promote concerns its baby food marketing practices. In the past 20 years the boycott has been instrumental in stopping many cases of aggressive marketing designed by the company to persuade mothers to buy the company formula, regardless of the impact on health. The biological norm of breastfeeding provides all a baby needs for the first 6 months of life and continues to provide protection and nutrition alongside other foods beyond this. Infants fed on formula are more likely to suffer short and long-term illness. Around the world 1.5 million infants die every year because they are not adequately breastfed (click here for sources of this statistic).

In the past Nestlé promoted its formula with pictures of chubby babies on labels and by sending marketing staff dressed as nurses into hospitals. Today these practices have changed, thanks to marketing requirements adopted by the World Health Assembly, legislation implementing these measures and our work with our partners in monitoring company behaviour and promoting the boycott. Yet Nestlé's latest practices are only slightly more subtle. It presents its formula as containing 'brain building blocks' and suggests that it 'protects' babies, all the time knowing that infants fed on formula do not develop the same as breastfed infants and miss out on the protection provided by the living anti-bodies and other protective factors in breastmilk. They are more likely to become sick and in conditions of poverty, they are more likely to die.

Global monitoring conducted by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) finds Nestlé to be the worst of the companies. And as market leader it sets trends others follow and so drives down standards. As we have exposed recently, in South Africa not only the Department of Health was critical of its marketing practices, but also its competitors, who filed a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority - they lost and may feel compelled to resort to push similar promotional tactics through the regulatory loophole Nestlé has created. See:

It is regrettable that the boycott continues to be a necessary tool to put pressure on Nestlé and to raise awareness of its marketing malpractice. But the new Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Paul Bulcke, has, like his predecessor, rejected the plan put to Nestlé for saving infant lives and ultimately ending the boycott. Instead Nestlé tries to divert criticism with expensive Public Relations initiatives and underhand methods such as those described above. The changes it makes are grudging. More boycott action will help to persuade it. Last year, after denying for years that the boycott had support, Nestlé's Global Public Affairs Manager owned up to Nestlé being 'widely boycotted'. Independent research has found it to be one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet. See:

The parallel strategy to the boycott is bringing in legislation. In the case of South Africa, for example, we ran a campaign of international solidarity earlier this year as it seeks to bring in stronger regulations to stop the type of promotion we have exposed. Over 70 countries have brought in measures, some of which are proving to be very effective and breastfeeding rates are increasing.

Parents who use formula, for whatever reason, also need protecting and we continue to call on Nestlé to make changes, such as improving instructions and stopping promoting powdered whole milk alongside more expensive infant formula in supermarkets and pharmacies. It knows that poor mothers are more likely to use the whole milk because it is much cheaper, but has even greater risks.

So happy Nestlé-Free Week. Have fun spreading the word and seeking out non-Nestlé alternatives for the coming week and, hopefully, beyond.

Although there is no willingness from Nestlé to accept the plan for ending the boycott at present, other companies have come to us because they are willing to change their marketing practices and want advice on how best to comply with the World Health Assembly requirements.

One day Nestlé will realise it is best for its business and for mothers and babies if it accepts it needs to change.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Nestle's response to the Sanlu melamine scandal

I've written about various aspects of the contamination of Sanlu formula in China with melamine and Enterobacter Sakazakii and how Sanlu/Fonterra and transanational corporations such as Nestlé and Nutricia have undermined breastfeeding through aggressive promotion.

This is an update of some of the information that has emerged since, including how Nestlé sees profit to be made from the scandal and an analysis of the stories of Nestlé formula also being contaminated and its denials.

The contaminant, melamine, is allegedly added to increase the protein level of milk, so farmers can meet quality specifications, perhaps because the milk has been watered down to increase volume. The sciencebase blog is written by someone who has worked in the dairy industry and questions how contaminated milk could have passed through the testing process. He also points out that the authorities suggested 0.25% melamine has been found in the milk, which would augment its protein reading (because it is an organic compound with high Nitrogen content - formula C3H6N6) - but only by 1.2%. This is an expensive strategy, unless the melamine itself is low quality and may be a contaminated contaminant, bringing other chemicals into the milk. See:

A briefing from the World Health Organisation (WHO) gives the same figure for the contamination of powdered formula and calculates: "the Sanlu product incriminated in the cases in China was contaminated at a level of over 2500 mg/kg powder, corresponding to approximately 350 ppm in reconstituted product (assuming a 7-fold reconstitution factor)."

WHO suggests, with lots of qualifications, what a tolerable level may be: "Considering a 5kg infant, the tolerable amount of melamine would be 2.5 mg per day. This amount would be reached when consuming 750 ml liquid (or reconstituted) formula contaminated at a level around 3.3 mg/l (ppm)."

In other words, the melamine level in the reconstituted formula is over 100 times this amount. Also implicated is one of the contaminants of the contaminant, cyanuric acid: "Melamine alone is of low toxicity, however experimental studies have shown that combination with cyanuric acid leads to crystal formation and subsequent kidney toxicity."

To download the WHO briefing as a pdf, click:

Now on 21 September Nestlé issued a press release saying its products were not affected after reports of melamine being found in Neslac Gold 1. It was Neslac that was found to have too high levels of iodine in 2005, which Nestlé also blamed on milk suppliers and refused to withdraw. As I've written previously, the China Daily reported: "Nestle was caught remarkably flat-footed for a multinational firm of its global standing. Many believe it reacted with the speed and alacrity of a sailor drunk on shore leave." See:

Nestlé said in its press release:

---Nestle press release extract
Following press reports in Hong Kong earlier today claiming that traces of melamine had been found in a Nestlé growing up milk, Nestlé is confident that none of its products in China is made from milk adulterated with melamine.

The Hong Kong Government's Food and Environmental Health Department has just released a report declaring that Neslac Gold 1+, which was mentioned in the media reports, is safe and that no melamine was detected in the product. Neslac Gold 1+ was previously tested by government-approved independent laboratories such as the Hong Kong Standards and Testing Centre Ltd. (18-20 September) and the Food Industry Research and Development in Taiwan (16 September). Neither test detected melamine in the product.
---extract ends

It's always worth checking source documents to see if Nestlé is presenting them accurately, because too often it takes things out of context and misrepresents official statements (its misleading use of statements from the UK Methodist Church to try to undermine the boycott is a good example).

There has been a media report of a child fed on Nestlé formla being admitted to hospital with kidney stones in Macau - see the Macau Daily Times 24 September. But checking the Hong Kong government's testing report, you will indeed find Neslac Gold 1+ on the uncontaminated list of products. Go to the Centre for Food Safety website by clicking here. Neslac Gold 1+ appears on the 'Milk products (other than infant formula)' list under the column: 'Satisfactory results of testing of Melamine'.

Nestlé goes on to give this assurance:

---Nestlé press release extract
Nestlé has a very close relationship with its milk producers in China and advises them continuously on the quality of milk production. Nestlé also has the same stringent quality control system in place in its factories in China as in any other part of the world. Over 70 different tests are routinely conducted in the course of producing infant formula and other milk products. In fact, the Chinese authorities have issued official certificates for all tested Nestlé products stating that no melamine has been detected in any of them.
---extract ends

But that's not true. Nestlé has just referred to the Hong Kong government's report. There is a Nestlé product on the unsatisfactory list of products contaminated with melamine: Nestle Dairy Farm UHT Pure Milk with 1.4 ppm. This is within the 3.3 ppm tolerable level suggested by WHO, but above the government's limit of 1 ppm. However, it isn't quite covered by Nestlé's claim that "no melamine has been detected" in any tested products.

Nestlé has now issued a press release, 2 October, about recalling formula in Taiwan. It has the tite: "Nestlé and Taiwan Department of Health reaffirm products are safe - Nestlé fails to understand temporary delisting request."

Nestlé has been requested to withdraw products that have been found to contain melamine.

Nestlé says: "In line with Nestlé’s Corporate Business Principles, the company immediately complied with authorities’ request."

Those business principles and Nestlé's actions do not always marry up (see the Nestlé Critics website). In this case perhaps Nestlé has been stung by the 'drunk sailor' accusation from when it refused the Chinese authories' instruction to withdraw products - and the fact we remind people of this and it's failure to recall formula in 2002 in Switzerland from a batch incriminated in the death of a 5-day-old child in Belgium due to contamination with Enterobacter Sakazakii.

I've not as yet found details of the testing in Taiwan. Nestlé's press release suggests that Taiwan has safety levels 50 times lower than other countries. I guess this is Nestlé's way of adjusting the claim that Nestlé products have no melamine, to suggesting they don't have very much.

Back to Nestlé's 22 September press release and the company states:

---Nestle press release extract
In general terms, melamine is found throughout the food chain across the world in minute traces which do not represent any health risk for consumers. There is a generally accepted tolerable daily intake of melamine in food in the EU (0.5mg/kg of body weight/day) and in the US (0.63mg/kg of body weight/day).
---extract ends

So rather than there being no melamine, the argument is we're all eating melamine anyway.

Formula is a particularly dangerous way for contaminants to reach infants. They are at the most vulnerable stage of development of their lives, outside the womb. Chemical contaminants also reach babies in utero through the accumulation of these 'tolerable' levels of contaminants in their mother's body through foods and the environment. Body loads of contaminants are often tested through breastmilk as many are fat soluble and it is easier to access milk than to take a biopsy. From a quick search of past reports, I've not found any indication of melamine being found in breastmilk. Other environmental contaminants are found at different levels, depending to a large extent on the use of chemicals in the home. These test results lead to scare headlines of contaminants in breastmilk, which miss the point that, as Nestlé suggests, contaminants are found throughout the food chain, and, more significantly, that breastfeeding a child helps it to excrete the far more dangerous in utero load of contaminants. IBFAN has a working group on residues in breastmilk, including objective information on risks and guidance on 'breastfeeding in an contaminated environment' - see:

Aside from the obvious need to investigate the catastrophic failure of the quality control systems of Fonterra/Sanlu, what else can be learned?

We need effective and trustworthy monitoring systems. This is something that Baby Milk Action and our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) have been calling for for years. When there are cases of contamination like this, and the many others that have led to recalls of infant formula, parents who use formula need to know that affected products will be pulled from the shelves and have access to information they can trust on which products are safe. We can't trust companies, as Nestlé's 'no melamine found' overstatement demonstrates.

There need to be robustly independent food standards agencies that parents can look to and believe in.

Not for nothing has Baby Milk Action action questioned the wisdom of the appointment of the new director of the UK Food Standards Agency - he comes from the dairy industry, which, at the very least, does not give the appearance of indepndence.

Nestlé has claimed it has support from the Department of Health in Taiwan. In the UK, Nestlé sponsors the Parliamentary secretary of a Department of Health minister and took her on an all-expenses-paid jolly to South Africa earlier in the year. Not surprisingly links like these give rise to questions of how independent even official bodies are. See:

Surely it would actually benefit companies to have credible independent bodies. Their efforts to gain influence lead to distrust.

We have been reminded that we live in a contaminated environment - 'melamine is found throughout the food chain' to quote Nestlé. Which is the result of living in a throw-away, mass-produced, processed world. How to clean it up is a bigger question than I'm going to look at on this blog.

And, of course, breastfeeding avoids these problems. You cannot get a more locally produced food. One that delivers both nourishment and protection, reduces a baby's contaminant load and doesn't pollute the environment.

Breastfeeding has been declining in China, not helped by the aggressive marketing of Nestlé and others.

Even with this tragedy in China, Nestlé's response is to look to its profits. It does not see this as a wake-up call for mothers and the wider society to think about arranging life to make it easier to breastfeed children, it sees a marketing opportunity.

Here's how company Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé responded to questons on the illness and death in China, according to Reuters reporting on his visit to India. See:

---extract begins

"All our products are 100 percent safe... Sales in China are rather being favoured," Peter Brabeck-Letmathe told reporters in India's capital, when asked whether the scandal would affect the company's business.

"It's rather positive than negative," Brabeck said.

---extract ends