Thursday, June 25, 2009

Global Compact Critics on our Nestle complaint

Our complaint to the UN Global Compact office regarding Nestlé bringing the voluntary initiative into disrepute by using it to cover up its malpractice, is being downloaded and reported elsewhere.

The Global Compact Critics website tracks the shortcomings of the UN initiative. Its report on our complaint can be found at:

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action has highlighted the complaint on its front page at the moment. There is also news there of the rd WABA Global Forum, 14 -17 June 2010, Quebec City, Canada. See:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Interview on Nestlé's UN Global Compact cover up

I recently gave an interview to a Sheffield Live! radio station as part of an international student initiative in the build up to the next G8 summit. This has appeared on various websites, where you can listen to in online, including:

This included an exclusive on the launch of our report: Nestlé's UN Global Compact cover up. This report exposes how Nestlé breaches human rights and environmental standards and the strategies it uses to divert criticism. Amongst these is using the UN voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility initiative, the Global Compact, to portray its impact as wholly beneficial. We and colleagues who contribute to the Nestlé Critics site have lodged a formal complaint calling for Nestlé to be expelled from the initiative. See our press release for information at:

It is possible to download the report from the above link.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fundraising to hold UK formula companies to account

We are waiting for the UK government's review panel to give its recommendations on what to do in response to continued aggressive marketing of formula following the introduction of the new Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 2007 and the associated guidance notes.

As the monitoring reports we produce for the Baby Feeding Law Group (BFLG) show, violations remain 'commonplace' - to use the word of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in its assessment of the government's performance in protecting child rights. The Committee, like all health worker bodies, mother support groups and the government's own Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition have called for stronger regulations.

We continue to monitor the companies and will be producing a further report in the coming months. The next report will respond to the action - or lack of it - taken by the review panel. It will also go to the home authorities responsible for enforcing the regulations, to the Advertising Standards Authority and the Food Standards Agency. As the latest report shows, this has stopped some questionable marketing practices, but has mainly demonstrated the failings of the current regulatory and enforcement system.

To do this work, we rely on the support of volunteer monitors (some of whom we have trained), donations and sales of reports.

We are grateful to for listing our project on its site at:

You can make a donation via that site or the BFLG site:

You can download the latest report and purchase a printed copy at:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Call for Nestlé to be expelled from UN initiative

As you may recall, Nestlé attempted to hi-jack the Nestlé Critics site shortly before its launch. The site serves as a portal for information on various aspects of Nestlé malpractice. See:

Nestlé not only tries to silence critics and to spy on them (see the report on the site), it uses a UN initiative called the UN Global Compact as cover so its abuses of human rights and the environment can continue. Nestlé produces glossy reports which are published on the UN Global Compact and have even been launched at joint events.

Unfortunately the UN Global Compact has no procedure for confirming if the reports are accurate and complete. Indeed, it stresses it is not intended to be an enforcement or verification agency. Its aim is to encourage corporate responsibility through voluntary means and by holding up good examples of 'Communications on Progress' - Nestlé has been honoured in this way.

So the initiative is fundamentally flawed and much criticised. I wrote a chapter in the book 'Global Obligations for the Right to Food' analysing these issues and calling for a regulatory system that could stop malpractice.

The Global Compact does have integrity measures, under which complaints can be filed if it is thought that a company is bringing the initiative into disrepute by systematic abuses of the principles it claims to support. Nestlé does this and more: it uses the initiative as cover so abuses can continue.

So the Nestlé Critics have filed a complaint and Nestlé has 3 months to respond. We and our partners have raised our various concerns with Nestlé repeatedly without success, so if they are dismissed again, will the Global Compact act to remove Nestlé's reports and strike it from the list of partners? We shall see.

There is a rather nice report of our own to go with our complaint, which I have put together. You can download this from our website, via the press release issued today at:

Friday, June 05, 2009

Martek profits boosted by formula company bogus claims

Martek, the company that produces Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, from algae for adding to formula is doing well for itself.

The BioHealth Investor site reports "its fiscal 2009 second-quarter profit rose by 20 percent"

Why such demand for LCPUFAs? The report notes: "Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to play an important role in brain and eye development."

True, as far as it goes. Adding processed LCPUFAs to formula, a different environment to breastmilk, where human LCPUFAs naturally occur, is not found to provide any benefit.

The independent and respected Cochrane Library reviewed the evidence and concluded:

"It has been suggested that low levels of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) found in formula milk may contribute to lower IQ levels and vision skills in term infants. Some milk formulas with added LCPUFA are commercially available. This review found that feeding term infants with milk formula enriched with LCPUFA had no proven benefit regarding vision, cognition or physical growth."

Of course, the facts do not prevent Nestlé claiming its formula with LCPUFAs contains 'brain building blocks' or UK formula companies claiming they benefit brain and eye development. The companies do not follow the marketing requirements adopted by the World Health Assembly unless forced to do so.

This need not worry investors however. As Hambrecht & Quist said when it strongly recommended investors to buy shares in Martek Biosciences in the 1990s when it launched its Formulaid LCPUFA additive:

"The history of infant formula has shown that virtually all similar examples have led to wide-scale introduction of such additives into infant formula, even if there was no evidence that the additives were important. Infant formula is currently a commodity market with all products being almost identical and marketers competing intensely to differentiate their product. Even if Formulaid had no benefit we think that it would be widely incorporated into most formulas as a marketing tool and to allow companies to promote their formula as 'closest to human milk.'"

The question that parents need answered is whether it is worth spending more on formula that contains LCPUFAs. We have to direct parents to their health worker for information. However, as the World Health Assembly marketing requirements are not enforced in many countries, we know that health workers are not only misled by companies, but bombarded with gifts and hospitality to influence their views of the companies and their claims.

The official UK Department of Health line is that all formulas have to comply with composition standards so all formulas are equally suitable. There is no requirement to add LCPUFAs as there is not proven benefit from adding them. They are, however, believed to be safe.

The formula marketing regulations in the UK allow companies to add new ingredients to formula without proving their benefit or even safety: all they have to do is submit a copy of the label they plan to use to the Food Standards Agency.

This means that we are seeing what some have described as mass uncontrolled trials on populations of babies. While some parents may be persuaded to use formulas with LCPUFAs just in case, there is also the possibility that there may be unknown risks. In the US, a freedom of information request found that the Food and Drug Administration had registered reports from parents who believed their babies had had an adverse reaction to these ingredients. See:

Formula is a nutritional medicine and, like any medicine, is intended for specific cases where it is needed. If it can be avoided, then the known health risks and possible unknown ones can also be avoided. This common sense approach is lost in the hype around formula - hype which is intended to make formula use seem to be a simple question of lifestyle so as to boost sales and profits for companies such as Martek.

It is a mother's right to decide how to feed her child and no-one should try to make her feel guilty for her decision: there are many factors involved.

It is not my purpose in pointing out what companies hide to make mothers feel guilty, but to shame our politicians for allowing companies to make bogus claims. My purpose is to defend a mother's right to make an informed decision. If she decides to use formula afterwards in any case, a decision based on facts rather than misinformation should be empowering.

While we have to be aware that some mothers feel pressured to breastfeed and demonised if they decide not to (or have no choice), I think it is also wrong and patronising to believe or argue that information should be kept hidden.

Those that use formula require better information: independent, objective information from health workers that have not been targeted by companies seeking to increase sales.