Friday, December 21, 2007

That's it for 2007

There will be a break with the blog until early in the new year.

There has been a lot going on during 2007. Two highlights for me are the contrasting fortunes of mothers and babies in the Philippines and in the UK.

In the Philippines campaigners supported the Department of Health in facing down the power of the baby food companies and the US Chamber of Commerce. In October we welcomed significant new controls on the marketing of baby foods following a ruling of the Supreme Court, which lifted a restraining order on Department of Health regulations.

There is a report rounding up some of the actions taking place around the world in our Update 40 newsletter. You can download this at:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/update/update40.html

Meanwhile in the UK the government received unanimous support from health professional bodies, mother support groups and other health advocates for stronger measures here. The Baby Feeding Law Group report Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula called for implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions, which the government claims to support and which many other countries have already introduced in legislation.

In the UK, however, the government has followed the industry line of introducing only minimal changes to the legislation. It has not even introduced the measures called for by its own advisors, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and LACORS (the umbrella body for Trading Standards officers who will have to try to enforce the regulations).

It was a disappointing end to the year, particularly as 2007 began with us welcoming a crackdown by UK authorities on illegal health claims on labels. After 12 years of campaigning, since the 1995 regulations were introduced, our monitoring evidence had finally been heeded and companies were called on to change their labels.

Unfortunately there has been no visible follow through on the crackdown as new labels have been introduced that continue to use health claims not on the list permitted by the law. As a result the latest IBFAN (International Baby Food Action Network) report, Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2007, shows the UK in a very poor light, as an apparent test bed for new idealizing marketing strategies.

In 2008 we will continue to campaign for stronger regulations in the UK and no doubt will have to work to defend and encourage enforcement of the regulations in the Philippines and other countries.

The Breaking the Rules report shows that while companies develop their tactics, the strategy remains the same: undermining breastfeeding to increase sales of formula and misadvising parents who do use formula as companies do not want to be honest about the risks and how to reduce them lest they put people off their products.

Nestlé is shown to continue widespread and systematic violations of the marketing requirements using strategies that it is defending publicly, demonstrating continued pressure from the boycott is essential as it can cause the market leader to back down.

In a significant development, Nestlé's Global Public Affairs Manager admitted that Nestlé is 'widely boycotted'. Beforehand Nestlé's Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, had dismissed the findings of independent surveys to claim the boycott had little support. See:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press6july07.html

Nestlé sets trends others follow. NUMICO is trying to compete with Nestlé, particularly in Asian markets, and we have seen an increase in violations from it, to the point where it is rivalling Nestlé. With the takeove of NUMICO by Danone, IBFAN will put a similar plan to it as that already put to Nestlé: accept the validity of the marketing requirements and bring policies and practices into line or face consumer action.

So we can expect 2008 to be as busy as 2007. Some things will have got better in some parts of the world. In some places things are worse. One thing is certain, without this campaign and your support many more babies would suffer needless suffering and even death than is currently the case.

Have a good break if you are getting one and see you next year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

More on Nestle prizes bringing concerns to wider attention

Last week I wrote about children's author Sean Taylor refusing Nestlé prize money after winning a Gold Medal in the Nestlé Children's Book Prize, which is voted for by children. This has been greeted with messages of thanks for the support from campaigners around the world. At the prize ceremony, Mr. Taylor spoke of his concerns, saying:

"When a Monster is Born is a book that has something to do with choices. Some of these choices seem to be life-giving and some of them seem to take life away. I hope that I have made a life-giving choice. I have decided to refuse this cheque and ask that it goes back where it came from."

See the report on the Bookseller website at:
http://www.thebookseller.com/news/49893-author-refuses-nestl-prize-cheque.html

Then yesterday was the presentation of an award for Mr. Brabeck-Letmathé, Chief Executive Officer of Nestlé. It was the 'Black Planet' Award for harmful practices from Ethecon, which I wrote about recently. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/10/nestle-chief-award.html

You can find out more on the Ethecon site in German at:
http://www.ethecon.org/ethecon.php?id=269

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Please contact your Member of Parliament over the UK formula regulations

We issued a press release today as it was confirmed that the UK Advertising Standards Authority sees nothing wrong with Wyeth promoting its SMA formulas in a television advertisement containing zero scientific and factual information. The advertisement is a declaration of love from a father to his partner, including promises of continued support, including with night feeds. You can find the press release at:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press19dec07.html

As I say in my quote, the ASA has demonstrated once again that the regulatory system here is not fit for purpose. While the ASA interprets the UK law to declare the advertisement legal, it is also supposed to be 'decent, honest and truthful', which to my mind means it should comply with the World Health Assembly marketing requirements companies claim to support and are called on to abide by independently of government action. The ASA has told me they will only consider these measures if they are introduced in UK law. Despite a broad coalition of health advocates calling for that to be done, the government has refused.

This has prompted the following Early Day Motion from Lynne Jones MP, a long-time campaigner for the rights of mothers to accurate and independent information on infant feeding:

---EDM 608
That this House notes the Government's responsibility to implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly (WHA) through national measures to protect breastfeeding and to ensure the safe use of breastmilk substitutes if these are necessary; regrets its failure to act on the advice of its own Scientific Committee on Nutrition, LACORS, the health professional bodies, and health advocates making up the Baby Feeding Law Group, through the proposed Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations, by failing to prohibit promotion of follow-on formula, health and nutrition claims and companies targeting parents or to require improved warnings and instructions to reduce risk of formula use; and urges the Government to bring the regulations into line with the International Code and WHA resolutions which call for such prohibition.
---text ends

Please do contact your MP asking him or her to sign the EDM or thanking them for doing so if they have already. You can check at:
http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=34759&SESSION=891

A quick and easy way to contact your MP is through the website:
http://www.theyworkforyou.com/

I have sent a message saying: "I am contacting you to ask you to sign EDM 608. I am greatly concerned that the government is refusing to act on the recommendations of its own advisors, health worker professional bodies and other health advocates in revising the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations. I believe that breastfeeding needs to be protected from aggressive marketing and that parents who use formula have a right to accurate and objective information on the differences between products and how to reduce risks of use. The government appears to disagree and, as requested by the baby food industry, is refusing to implement international marketing standards that have been introduced in many other countries."

Parliament is on holiday for Christmas, but MPs can sign as soon as they get back. Time is short as the Minister for Public Health has already signed the regulations and they will come into force at the end of January unless Parliament takes action.

You can send a message to the Ministers for Health via our page:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/CEM/cemnov07.html

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Political leadership: where to find it

Here is a Christmas message from the nation's leader: "You - who are involved in infant and young child feeding are securing our country’s future, for tomorrow belongs to today's child. And you cannot give the nation a better christmas gift than what you are giving now."

This was not from Gordon Brown, the UK Prime Minister, thanking everyone who has sent messages of support for implementing the World Health Assembly baby food marketing requirements in the UK. Alas, we have yet to see such leadership in the UK.

The message came from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines.

She was speaking at a meeting of almost 300 Chiefs and Hospital Directors who had gathered to express their support to the Infant and Young Child Feeding Program of the Government.

In the UK, by contrast, health advocates from the government's own Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, LACORS (the umbrella body for Trading Standards officers), Royal Colleges and members of the Baby Feeding Law Group have called on the UK government to improve the weak Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations. Yesterday Lynne Jones MP tabled Early Day Motion 608 calling for the government to re-think its approach to the regulations (more on that tomorrow). Glenys Kinnock MEP wrote to Gordon Brown months ago calling for him to show leadership. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/12/try-again.html

While the UK government follows the industry line of minimal controls, the Department of Health in the Philippines fought the baby food industry in the Supreme Court, an action that gained world-wide support and galvanized backing from the highest levels of government.

Addressing the meeting on 17 December, President Arroyo said, in part:

---extract begins
The promotion of breastfeeding for children up to two years old, with emphasis on exclusive breastfeeding for the infant's first six months, is our fundamental approach to reduce if not eliminate hunger among infants and the very young children.

There is no substitute for mother’s milk, as most Filipinos know, but this knowledge has not been translated into practice. Our data indicate that more and more mothers are weaning their infants from breastmilk after only one month. A mere 16% of infants remain exclusively breastfed at 4-5 months, and very few are nourished by mothers’ milk up to 2 years old. We must act, and act fast to ensure that the nation builders of the future are provided proper nourishment.

One immediate concern which is why we’re having this is to involve all 1,426 accredited mother-baby friendly hospitals to fully implement the rooming in and breastfeeding act, the milk code and other laws on providing proper nourishment for infants. We need the strong will to make hospitals uphold our laws and work even harder to encourage other hospitals to join in our campaign.

The Supreme Court’s decision upholding all but three provisions of the milk code encourages us to be more creative in advocating breastfeeding as the best way to nourish our young.
---extract ends

The Philippines government is not only take action to protect breastfeeding. Important provisions upheld by the Supreme Court require companies to warn on labels that powdered formula is not sterile and the simple measures to reduce the risks of possible contamination with harmful bacteria. In the UK companies are failing to give this information despite the Food Standards Agency issuing its guidance to parents over 2 years ago. While companies have introduced new labels since then, they haven't brought their warnings and instructions into line and continue to misadvise parents on the telephone 'carelines'. Instead of including a requirements in the regulations to improve information for those who use formula, as health advocates were calling for, the UK government has instead advocated a voluntary agreement with the industry.

Seeing the significant gains to protect breastfeeding and to protect babies fed on formula in the Philippines should encourage us all to continue campaigning in support of governments around the world as they seek to implement and defend the minimum standards first introduced by the World Health Assembly in 1981.

But how depressing it is that my government in the UK is so lacking in political leadership on this issue.

Monday, December 17, 2007

ASA ruling on Wyeth's SMA television advertisement

This week we are anticipating the ruling of the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on the Wyeth/SMA television advertisement promoting its formula brand name and website. If past experience is anything to go by, the advertising industry's self-regulatory body will take a pro-industry line in breach of its mandate, once again exposing the government’s failure to properly regulate the marketing of breastmilk substitutes.

I have a quote ready for when the ASA ruling comes out if action is not taken to censure Wyeth.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:

“If the ASA really believes that parents should be basing their decisions on how to feed a child during the most important phase of its development outside the womb on the heart-tugging, greeting-card sentiments of Wyeth's SMA advertisement then they have seriously failed in their responsibility to protect the public. We will consider taking the case to the ASA ombudsman or to judicial review. This is not an argument over soap powder or chocolate bars, it is about life-long issues of health. The ASA has already demonstrated the regulatory system for breastmilk substitutes in the UK is not fit for purpose and proposed changes to the law expected this week are unlikely to make much difference as the government has so far ignored the recommendations of its own advisors, health worker bodies and other health experts and is following the industry line.”

You can view the advertisement via my blog entry at:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/09/wyeth-sma-uk-tv.html

Our experience with the ASA is instead of examining such advertisements with the test of whether they are ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’ it applies a narrow test of legality based on its own interpretation of the law.

If it did conduct a proper test it would evaluate advertisements against the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 and subsequent, relevant Resolutions. Companies are called on to abide by the provisions independently of government measures and all make public statements of support for the Code. So you would expect ‘decent, honest and truthful’ advertising to comply. Unfortunately the ASA does not see it that way and in protracted correspondence with me has basically told me to go away and change the UK law if I don’t like its position. Well, I have been with those trying.

The Code prohibits the advertising of breastmilk substitutes and bans companies from seeking direct or indirect contact with pregnant women and mothers of infants and young children. Companies are limited to providing scientific and factual information to health workers, who are given responsibility for providing information on infant feeding.

The advertisement is a clear violation. It promotes a breastmilk substitute (SMA Progress), it promotes a brand name used for the full range of products (including infant formula - and research commissioned by the National Childbirth Trust demonstrates that much of the general public associates the logo with infant formula or milks for young babies), it directs people to a website that promotes the full range of products and it encourages parents to trust the company for information on infant nutrition.

The ASA should have slapped a ban on it as soon as it appeared and invoked its powers to require Wyeth/SMA to submit advertising for pre-authorisation as similar breaches by the company are common place.

On past experience, however, the ASA takes the view that as in the UK only infant formula advertising is illegal, that is all it will consider. Follow-on formula advertising is permitted by the current UK law - and will be permitted by a proposed revised version of the law we are expecting to be presented to Parliament any day. The ASA dismisses the argument that such advertisements are de facto infant formula advertisements, and so illegal, if at some point there is a reference, however fleeting, to follow-on formula. I fear it will take the same line with this advertisement.

But the advertisement is even worse in some respects than others we have seen. It contains no information about the product, idealising or otherwise. It is an emotional declaration of love from a man for his partner, promising to love her through all she has to experience with bringing up their child, including the smell of baby sick, and undertaking to help with night feeds. It is solely aimed to invoke an emotional response to the SMA brand, a poor basis for making a decision on infant nutrition. You can read an interesting analysis of the psychology of the approach at:
http://morgangallagher.livejournal.com/124770.html

However, other information from the company is no better for making an informed decision on infant feeding. If you go to the SMA website as the advertisment encourages you to do there are offers of a free DVD and entreaties to call the telephone 'careline' and join the SMA baby club. There is advertising for infant formula – illegal under the UK law, though this has yet to be enforced. And the advice on the site is misleading. For example, I have analysed previously how the SMA information on soya formula contradicts that of the Food Standards Agency and Chief Medical Officer. Wyeth is abusing the right of parents who use formula to accurate and objective information.
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/08/wyeth-sma-soya.html

If you call the telephone careline, you find that the company does not admit that powdered formula is not sterile and may contain intrinsic contamination with harmful bacteria. When I conducted a spot check, the information was there was only a risk of contamination after the formula is opened. Parents have a right to know the true situation to better understand why the steps needed to reduce risks are important.

The company has issued labels with health claims that are not on the permitted list of claims, suggesting it has 'new improved protein balance' and is 'easily digested'. For more on the label see:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/04/lesson-from-wyeth-two-steps-forward-one.html

Wyeth/SMA is not a trustworthy source of information on infant nutrition. Indeed, it already has a criminal conviction for a ‘cynical and delibrate breach of the regulations’. See:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press31july03.html

As I mentioned, the ASA has said if we want it to judge advertisement against the World Health Assembly marketing code, which companies are called on to abide by independently of any other measures under Article 11.3 of the Code, then we have to change the UK law. Well, the government has just consulted on the law. UK health worker organisations and mother support groups in the Baby Feeding Law Group made a submission called: “Protecting breastfeeding – Protecting babies fed on formula” calling for the Code and Resolutions to be implemented in the UK. This was endorsed by the broader Breastfeeding Manifesto Coalition. The government’s own Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and LACORS (the umbrella body for Trading Standards officers, responsible for enforcing the law) called for stronger measures too, including a ban on advertising of follow-on milks.

The government has rejected these recommendations and is shortly to put its proposed regulations before Parliament. The Royal Colleges have written to the Minister for Public Health calling for a re-think and recommending that companies should not be allowed to target parents. They argue that the independent and accurate information that is available and their members are responsible for providing to parents should not be contradicted and undermined by the companies.

Unfortunately executives at Wyeth/SMA may well end up rubbing their hands with glee. They will most likely be able to carry on churning out this guff if the ASA betrays parents and babies as it has done in the past.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Proposed UK law: please try again

If you sent a message to the UK Secretary of State for Health and Minister for Public Health recently calling for it to strengthen formula marketing regulations in line with international standards, then you may have received a reply. Though not from the Ministers, but civil servants at the Food Standards Agency. Getting a response from Ministers is a little more difficult. Even if you have sent a message already, please send another now as the response from the Food Standards Agency is just not good enough. You can do so easily at:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/CEM/cemnov07.html#letter

We need to re-enforce the message we are sending to the decision makers to persuade them to look more closely at this issue and take action. When Alan Johnson MP, the Secretary of State for Health, was asked in a live webchat last week why the regulations resulting from the consultation do not implement the World Health Assembly market requirements and specifically why the government is not proposing to take action protect parents who use formula, he did not answer the question. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/12/minister-wrong-answer.html

I wrote yesterday that it seems an unwarranted fear of the government that the European Commission is an obstacle to action. Yet other countries both within and outside Europe are prepared to face a legal challenge should it be necessary to protect their citizens' rights - and have won. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/12/fear-of-commission.html

Glenys Kinnock MEP, a veteran campaigner for mothers and babies, wrote to Gordon Brown encouraging him to give a lead and sharing her detailed understanding of the European Union. She said:

---extract begins
The implementation of this legislation into UK law marks an excellent opportunity to go further than the minimum standards set out in the Directive 2006/141/EC, which, despite UK efforts to strengthen it, is still widely regarded as not going far enough. There is huge potential to use this opportunity to strengthen UK policy on this issue and to bring it in line with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. However, any decision to go further than the directive would require your intervention and support.

As you know, EU Directives are binding as to the result to be achieved by the Member States to which they are directed, however it remains up to the national authorities to decide upon the means and form of implementation used in order to realise the Community objective set out in the directive. Inherently, therefore, there is scope for discretion left to Member States and there exist a range of options for implementation of Directives. I hope that you will agree therefore that the implementation of the legislation is not required to mirror exactly the original wording of the directive.
---extract ends

However, following the 12-week consultation which saw unaminous support amongst health advocates for stronger measures, including from the government's own advisors, the response to the consultation suggest no change from the original weak proposals. There is a promise to issue 'guidance notes' to address some of the concerns, but without force of law these may be shown the same contempt as the International Code, which companies are also called on to abide by independently of legislation.

The letter you may have received from the Food Standards Agency tries to put a brave face on the weak proposals, talking up the changes since the 1995 version of the regulations. Specifically the FSA states :

---extract begins
These new provisions will offer increased consumer protection compared to the previous Regulations as they:
  • update compositional requirements, in line with the most recent advice from pan-European independent scientific experts;
  • update labelling rules clarifying that follow-on formula should only be used by infants from six months of age (the current Regulations specify that follow-on formula can be used from four months);
  • clarify that only a small number of specific health and nutrition claims can be used on infant formulae;
  • lay down a new national notification requirement for infant formulae which will allow EC countries to monitor the marketing of new infant formulae more effectively (no such provision exists in the current legislation);
  • prohibit the advertising of infant formula directly to the public;
---extract ends

It was because of the pressing need to introduce the improved compositional requirements, which we worked for, that the Directive was signed off by Member States without a further battle by concerned Member States for improving other aspects of it. But the Directive does not prevent governments from taking further action to protect health, in line with the International Code, specifically referenced by the Directive.

The recommendations of the Baby Feeding Law Group, the coalition of UK health worker and mother support groups, are contained in the report 'Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula' available at:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/shop/publications01.html#bflgsubmission

Significant differences between the minimal action proposed by the government and the recommendations of the BFLG, endorsed by the Breastfeeding Manifesto Coalition, a broader grouping still include the following.

The government limits the regulations on marketing and health claims to infant formula, instead of applying them to all breastmilk substitutes, which includes follow-on formula.

The proposals do not require companies to warn parents that powdered formula is not sterile and the simple steps to reduce the risks from possible contamination with harmful bacteria.

There is no prohibition on companies targeting parents directly or promoting websites and company telephone 'carelines', used to promote products which cannot be advertised more conventionally. We have conducted spot monitoring which shows these idealize products and misadvise parents on preparation.

There is no requirement for new ingredients to be approved before being added to formula - companies only have to submit a label in the case of infant formula and there are no controls on follow-on formula.

See the full list of BFLG recommendations in the submission or on the Baby Feeding Law Group website.

The draft regulations are to go to Parliament, apparently unchanged following the consultation, very soon. You can send a last message to the Ministers asking them to reconsider before doing so. Please do send this message even if you sent a message before. Indeed, if you did send a message before you can add a note saying you find the response disappointing or unacceptable. See:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/CEM/cemnov07.html#letter

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Do not fear the European Commission

Bear with me, this blog is on an issue of critical importance, though for some very tedious. This information could determine whether the UK continues to be highlighted as particularly lax in regulating the baby food industry, or takes the action its own advisers and a broad coalition of health worker and mother support groups are calling for.

Only the baby food industry is opposing stronger Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations. But it is getting its way? It is not for economic reasons. The UK economy stands to save far more money by protecting babies and parents from aggressive marketing than it gains in tax on sales of formula.

It is not because of 'freedom of choice', because the regulations health advocates want do not ban the sale of formula. On the contrary they aim to ensure that parents who use formula receive accurate independent information about the different types on the market and clear instructions on how to prepare it. The promotional materials from the companies do not provide this.

What it seems to come down to is the government is scared of the European Commission. While the Department of Health in the Philippines battled for a year in the Supreme Court to successfully defend its regulations from industry attack, I have the impression the UK government is worried it may have its knuckles rapped for going further than the Commission wants it to go. And remember the European Union is a trading block so has an in-built bias to increase sales of products such as formula.

UK health worker bodies and mother support groups, along with development agencies such as Save the Children and UNICEF and trade unions such as UNISON and UNITE are together in saying the government will have their support if it implements the World Health Assembly marketing requirements, as many other countries have done. Countries such as Italy have drafted proposals bringing in some of the measures the UK fears will put it in the Commission's bad books.

But, at present, there is a lack of political leadership in the UK. So let us take a closer look to see if the apparent fear is justified.

It comes down to whether the EU Directive that Members States have to implement is a minimum standard or a maximum standard. Do Member States have to do everything in the Directive and no more - a process called total harmonisation - or do they have flexibility to do what they feel is best as long as it fulfils the aim of the Directive and puts in place a common framework, where relevant - so-called partial harmonisation.

The official line from the Commission is that some things are set. For example, there are minimum composition standards for formula. This is a good thing - we campaigned to make them as good as possible. At the same time the Commission wanted to allow optional ingredients to be added such as probiotics, which companies are clamouring to be able to make health claims about as a marketing tool, while many Member States were more cautious and want to see a scientific case made first and any beneficial and safe ingredients to be included in all formulas. As the UK Government's Scientific Advisory Committee (SACN) on Nutrition said in its submission to the consultation:

---extract begins
We find the case for labelling infant formula or follow on formula with health or nutrition claims entirely unsupportable. If an ingredient is unequivocally beneficial as demonstrated by independent review of scientific data it would be unethical to withhold it for commercial reasons. Rather it should be made a required ingredient of infant formula in order to reduce existing risks associated with artificial feeding. To do otherwise is not in the best interests of children, and fails to recognise the crucial distinction between these products and other foods.
---extract ends

While the government has rejected the advice of SACN, the fact that Member States can choose whether to allow optional ingredients shows it is partial harmonisation.

The Commission says at the end of the day it would come down to a ruling by the European Court of Justice, should there be a challenge to a government line. Is a challenge likely? I don't think so, and if it arose then I would like to see our government stand up for the rights of its citizens as the government of the Philippines did this year.

Other countries within Europe are also standing up to the Commission in other areas. For example, the German Government recently achieved a significant victory at the European Court of Justice over regulations for foreign agencies posting workers to work in Germany. The German authorities wanted contracts and certain other documents regarding the pay and conditions of the workers to be available in the German language in Germany. The Commission challenged this as an infringement of Directive 96/71/EC, arguing that co-operation between Member States meant such measures were superfluous. The Court dismissed most of the Commission's challenge in July, in what John Monks, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, heralded as a common-sense ruling for effective monitoring and worker protection. See:
http://www.europeanvoice.com/archive/article.asp?id=29443

Another case cited by John Monks as a common-sense ruling by the Court relates to compulsory retirement agreements in Spain. A challenge came to the court suggesting this was age discrimination. The Court ruled that though age was undoubtedly an issue, workplace agreements for compulsory retirement at the age set by national legislation when retirement benefits became available were permissible. It concluded that Directives on age discrimination were not being infringed stating:

---extract begins
It is, therefore, for the competent authorities of the Member States to find the right balance between the different interests involved. However, it is important to ensure that the national measures laid down in that context do not go beyond what is appropriate and necessary to achieve the aim pursued by the Member State concerned.
---extract ends

This is a key judgement and should reassure UK politicians if they feel held back by the risk of an appearance at the European Court of Justice. Implementing internationally-agreed measures for the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, as has been done in many other countries, cannot be portrayed as 'unbalanced'. It is proportionate to the need to protect infant health and mothers' rights. Everyone from the World Health Assembly and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to the government's own advisers, enforcement authorities and health advocates are calling for such action.

The aim of implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly is entirely consistent with the of the Directive itself and so cannot be deemed to go beyond it. The Directive states:

---Directive 2006/141/EC extract
(27) In an effort to provide better protection for the health of infants, the rules of composition, labelling and advertising laid down in this Directive should be in conformity with the principles and the aims of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes adopted by the 34th World Health Assembly, bearing in mind the particular legal and factual situations existing in the Community.

(28) Given the important role which information on infant feeding plays in choosing, by pregnant women and mothers of infants, the type of nourishment provided to their children, it is necessary for Member States to take appropriate measures in order that this information ensures an adequate use of the products in question and is not counter to the promotion of breast feeding.

---extract ends


So in the unlikely event of a challenge, the government has a very strong case for defending implementing the Code and Resolutions. It has the support of all relevant organisations in the UK, except the baby food industry. And the European Court of Justice has shown it does not bow to demands from the Commission, but can take a common-sense approach.

Why then does the government not act? Exactly. There is no good reason, so let us see if can persuade them before it is too late.

There is still time. You can send a message to the Ministers responsible using the simple form you will find at:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/CEM/cemnov07.html

The message has been updated to reflect the lack of response of the government to the consultation, so please do send this message, even if you have sent one before.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sean Taylor, award winning author, refuses Nestle money

Nestlé Children's Book Prize winner refuses Nestlé money - Sean Taylor rejects cheque.

That's the headline of a press release we have issued today. Sean Taylor received a Gold Medal for his book 'When a Monster is Born' illustrated by Nick Sharratt (Orchard Books). Concerned about Nestlé marketing of baby foods, Mr. Taylor refused the prize money from the award sponsor. See:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press12dec07.html

Mr. Taylor's public letter is given below in its entirety:

---Quote begins
Being on the short list for the 2007 Nestlé Children’s book Prize is a significant honour for me, especially since so many children around the country have been involved in choosing the winning books. And I am delighted to accept the award offered to me.

However, because of questions surrounding Nestlé’s marketing of breast-milk substitutes, I do not feel able to accept the prize money.

This has not been a decision I have taken lightly. It has involved conversations with Baby Milk Action (a campaign group against Nestlé), Nestlé themselves, and an authoritative third party with experience in the field (who wishes to remain nameless).

In the light of these conversations, it is apparent to me that many of Nestlé’s controversial activities took place in the past and that the company has taken steps to improve its practice.

Nevertheless, it is my view that their interpretation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes sets up the risk that profit is put before infant health. And, in addition, it seems that the actions of some of their employees on the ground are inconsistent with company policy as set out in the Head Office.

For these reasons I do not feel that Nestlé are the most appropriate sponsors for this major children’s book prize.
---quote ends

When I spoke with Mr. Taylor, the most recent global monitoring report was Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2004.

Since then the latest report was launched earlier this month. This shows continued systematic and widespread violations by Nestlé. While tactics have changed - thanks to the boycott closing down practices such as promoting complementary foods from too early an age in many countries - the strategy of undermining breastfeeding to increase formula sales continues. See:
Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2007.

Not only do violations continue, these are defended at the highest level of the company. Just yesterday Nestlé defended branding babies from birth in China. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/12/nestle-defends-branding-babies.html

Earlier in the year I wrote about Nestlé's attempt to justify targeting mothers in Bangladesh with promotional fliers. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/05/nestl-responds-to-investigation-in.html

As I say in our press release, Nestlé will once again appreciate that opening its cheque book will not buy it a good image. It has to stop breaking the rules.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Nestle defends branding babies

I wrote last week of the new global baby food marketing monitoring report from the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). The UK looks particularly bad in it, thanks to the failure of our government to introduce the World Health Assembly marketing requirements introduced by many other countries.

Nestlé also comes out very badly as its claim to abide by the requirements is shown to be false.

One practice highlighted in the report, which I included on this blog, was its branding of babies in China. Here's a pic:

Nestle profile detail 2007

This has been picked up and reported on a trade website, where the practice has been defended by Nestlé. See:
http://www.nutraingredients.com/news/ng.asp?n=81843-nestle-heinz-who-bma-infant-nutrition

Here is an extract:

---Quote begins
But Nestle this morning hit back at those claims and said that under the WHO code they were allowed to donate equipment and materials to healthcare systems "with a company's name and logo - but not with a formula product name or brand."

A spokesperson told NutraIngredients.com that the: "are provided as a service to the hospitals with their approval, and is completely permitted."

He added that Nestle "firmly believes that breast-feeding is the best way to feed a baby and we are strongly committed to the protection and promotion of breast-feeding."
---quote ends

Before getting into the provisions of the marketing requirements, let's just take the above at face value.

Nestle is suggesting that putting its name and logo onto newborn babies has nothing to do with it wanting to promote its products - and the only product relevant to a new-born child being infant formula.

Really? Then why on earth does it want them there? Why, now that it has been criticised, is its response to defend the practice, rather than to remove it?

For the simple reason it is part of a marketing strategy and one which it want to carry on investing in.

There are various provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly that are relevant.

Article 6.8 states: "Equipment and materials... donated to a health care system may bear a companys name or logo, but should not refer to any proprietary product within the scope of this Code."

This is the article to which Nestle is referring.

However, try this experiment. Take a look at Nestlé products on the shelves. You will not see the Nestlé logo and name which appears on the wrist bands in China on the front of the products - with one exception. It is on the infant formula. Other products sometimes have the Nestlé name on them, but the logo is hidden away, so much so that most people don't notice it. That is even the case with the milks for older children. It is only on the formula that it features prominently, as on the wrist band. Take a look and let me know if I am wrong.

Nestlé is developing the logo even further to associate it even more closely with infant formula. Here is an example of a Nestlé poster, shown in the IBFAN report, ostensibly for breastfeeding:

As with the wrist band, this features the Nestlé name and logo prominently.

Now look to the formula. The Nestlé name and logo have grown substantially in recent years.

Indeed the more realistic rending of the bird and nest logo used on the poster is specific to formula packaging - so clearly within the scope of Article 6.8. Here is an example from the Breaking the Rules report showing a label:

The formula bird and nest logo is as on the poster in China, and dominates the label as much as the formula brand. Above it is the conventional logo, as on no other product.

Here they both are again on formula in the Philippines, exposed in our campaign here and in the Breaking the Rules report:

Nestlé Nestogen formula 2006

The logo - and the Nestlé name - will be associated with the formula.

As the report notes, some countries, such as Tanzania have prohibited the large bird and nest logo, seeing it as an attempt to get around restrictions on idealizing images - the reason why Nestlé introduced it.

There is also the issue of conflicts of interest. Nestlé claims that in China the donation had approval. Yet, Article 11.3 of the Code says companies are responsible for complying independently of government measures.

Resolutions 58.32 calls for care : "to ensure that financial support and other incentives for programmes and health professionals working in infant and young-child health do not create conflicts of interest."

Nestlé claims to back breastfeeding. Indeed in the advertisement pictured above, the small print also says : “At Nestlé, we believe breastfeeding is the best for babies”.

The large print is a little different. The advertisement is from a Spanish magazine in the United States. It states: "“Entrust the nutrition of your baby to Nan. For over 40 years Nan infant formula has been the number 1 brand for Latin American families”. A slogan beneath a packshot of Nan says “Helping them to grow from generation to generation”.

Article 5.1 states: "There should be no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public of products within the scope of this Code."

So such advertising is a clear breach of the the marketing requirements. Though Nestlé may choose to disagree.

Find many more examples in the Breaking the Rules report at:
http://www.ibfan.org/site2005/Pages/article.php?art_id=510&iui=1

Monday, December 10, 2007

Breastfeeding Manifesto tops

Baby Milk Action took pre-orders for these tops on behalf of the Breastfeeding Manifesto Coalition - we are a member.

These have now all been despatched by the Breastfeeding Manifesto Coalition. If you ordered through Baby Milk Action and haven't received yours, then contact the Coalition direct on: 0208 8305576.

You can now order through a dedicated B*Glam website: click here.

Theo Walcott and friends

Friday, December 07, 2007

Politicians listening in Gambia

While health workers and campaigners in the UK are trying to get the Secretary for State for Health to take notice of recommendations for protecting breastfeeding and protecting babies on formula, news from The Gambia suggests our colleagues are treated very differently.

Yesterday I reported how the Minister responsible for the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations in the UK, Alan Johnson MP, had totally missed the point in a webchat when he was questioned on why the proposed revision to the regulations do not bring them into line with international standards adopted by the World Health Assmbly and introduced in many other countries. Mr Johnson said there had been a consultation on strengthening the regulations and these would be presented to Parliament shortly. It is these very bad proposals he was being asked about. Even his own advisors have recommended stronger action.

So to the Gambia where I have just seen a news report about the National Nutrition Agency working with our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) to brief parliamentarians on the importance of the marketing requirements and programmes to support parents. In The Gambia exclusive breastfeeding rates have increased markedly between 1990 and 2007 according to the permanent secretary of the Vice-President's office. See:
http://www.thepoint.gm/National%20Stories1492.htm

Let us hope the UK will learn from the practices and experiences of The Gambia in this area.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Minister doesn't listen to the question and gives wrong answers

As I wrote earlier in the week the UK Secretary of State for Health invited people to put questions to him in a live webchat, which took place today.

Great in theory, but a disappointment in practice. There were two really good questions about the government's proposed revision to the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations. The government has not followed the recommendations of health experts, including its own advisors. The proposed revisions are little better than the existing law, which is failing to protect mothers and their babies. This is not just about protecting breastfeeding, but also protecting babies fed on formula.

So two people wanted to know why the government wasn't providing this protection and wasn't implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions - the WHO International Code as some put it.

As you see from the exchange I have copied from the webchat and posted below, the Minister didn't answer the question. Instead of explaining why the expert recommendations to the government's consultation have been rejected, Mr Johnson simply explained about the flawed consultation!

---Webchat extract
Anita Cartlidge: Breastfeeding rates in England are amongst the lowest across the world. As a result children’s and women’s short term and long term health is suffering. Supporting Breastfeeding is mentioned in many health documents some several years old yet there has been no significant long term investment in supporting initiatives to increase breastfeeding rates. Why is the Government not following a similar model to Norway who had similar breastfeeding rates to us in the 1960's but due to a concerted whole systems approach to change now has breastfeeding initiation rates above 95% and high continuation rates? And why is the Government not implementing the full WHO Code on breastmilk substitutes. Thanks

Alan replies: Breastfeeding initiation rates have been rising across all socio-economic groups in the UK and currently stands at 78% in England. We have a commitment arising from our NHS Plan in 2000 to increase support for breastfeeding . Through schemes such as the National Breastfeeding Awareness Week, Healthy Start and working with UNICEF to encourage hospitals to implement Baby Friendly Initiative policies, we are looking both to incentivise and encourage women to breastfeed.

It's also important to mention the huge increase in statutory paid maternity leave from 14 weeks to 9 months under this government, recognising that if women have to return to work in the first six months, they cannot commit to breastfeeding.

Finally on the issue of milk substitutes, my Department and the Food Standards Agency have set out stricter controls on the promotion, labelling and composition of infant and follow-on formula milk.

barbara: If the government proposes to protect infants fed on formula milk, why then is it proposing only a voluntary agreement to improve the information on the labels with the formula companies rather than a mandatory requirement, since it is clear that the companies will not comply with such a request?

Alan replies: After consideration of all the comments received during a 12-week public consultation on infant formula regulations, we are proposing new measures which include updating the rules on the composition of all types of formula, tighter rules on labelling, tougher restrictions on advertising and robust guidance for industry and enforcement authorities to use to correctly apply this new law. The regulations will be laid before Parliament shortly with a view to being on the statute books by January 2008.
---webchat extract ends

What a disappointment! The question is why are the regulations to be laid before Parliament so bad! You can read more about response to the proposals and send a message to Mr. Johnson asking him to revise the regulations before they go to Parliament via our website at:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press21nov07.html

But great that the issue did make it into the discussion alongside the other health topics covered. Thank you to everyone who posted questions and made this an issue that the moderator allowed through.

Without regulations the efforts the government is putting into protecting and promoting breastfeeding will continue to have little impact. While Mr. Johnson is correct to state that initiation rates have increased, breastfeeding duration has barely changed, and in some regions is actually decreasing. Initation can be influenced by hospital practices, such as UNICEF Baby Friendly, but once outside hospital the marketing efforts of the baby food industry have greater impact.

And the fact is, that expenditure on promotion by the baby food industry is increasing, while government expenditure on breastfeeding promotion is decreasing. Here is an extract from my talk during National Breastfeeding Awareness Week:

---
The advertising spend for baby foods: £7,626,847 in 2006/07 according to Nielsen Research Multimedia. That’s an increase of 36.6% on the previous year.

Breastfeeding has a promotional budget of £729,011 in 2006/07. That’s a decrease on the 2004/05 figure of £747,000.
---

Thanks to Save the Children for researching these figures. You can find my full talk and listen to it on line at:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/resources/nbaw07.html

Increases in maternity benefits have been welcomed by us, though returning to work does not have to be a barrier to breastfeeding.

There are, however, concerns arising about the impact of the government's Healthy Start scheme, referred to by Mr. Johnson. This is from an industry marketing report:

---Extract begins
Milks receive boost from Healthy Start

In 2007 sales received a boost due to the introduction of the Healthy Start welfare scheme in late 2006, which gives less well-off mothers vouchers to spend on infant formula purchased from retail outlets, rather than being given free milks via clinics.
---extract ends

Journalists wanting the full report can contact me. I'll write more about it in due course.

So while it is great that Mr. Johnson has participated in this webchat, his answer show the government does not understand the impact of its policies and is not answering the questions it is being asked.

Please do keep on supporting our work and the wider Baby Feeding Law Group and Breastfeeding Manifesto campaigns.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Spotlight on rule breakers in Indonesia on Al Jazeera

Here is a recent news report that has just come to my attention, from Al Jazeera about the aggressive marketing of baby formula, with a focus on Indonesia.

This includes an Indonesian-specific version of the Breaking the Rules monitoring report. There is also special mention of how the first Nestlé boycott that ran till 1984 brought in international marketing standards for breastmilk substitutes. The boycott was relaunched as Nestlé did not keep its promise to abide by these measures.



You can find more on the global report, Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2007, at:
http://www.ibfan.org/site2005/Pages/article.php?art_id=525&iui=1

Here's an example from the Nestlé profile.

Other examples include promotions on formula to retailers, hosital sign boards sponsored by Nestlé and idealizing cereal promotion (included in the Stretching the Rules section).

There are profiles on most of the other companies mentioned in the Al Jazeera report as well.

Nestlé has already come out fighting in response to the Breaking the Rules report, over the example of it branding babies in China I mentioned last week. It has indicated it will continue the practice. More on that shortly.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

UK Minister to answer your questions

I wrote yesterday about efforts by the UK government to consult experts and the public on matters of policy.

On Thursday the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson MP, will answer questions in a webchat.

Here the Minister invites you to take part:



Mr. Johnson suggests the government's recently announced plan to tackle cancer is one of the topics to be covered. Perhaps relevant then, to recall the importance of breastfeeding to reduce cancer risks for mothers and their children in later life. See my blog on the World Cancer Fund report released at the end of October at:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/10/breastfeeding-cancer-risks.html

But we are not only concerned about the 9 out of 10 women who stopped breastfeeding at 6 weeks and said they wanted to breastfeed for longer. Or the 40% who breastfed for 6 months, but also wanted to breastfeed longer.

At present I am particularly concerned about those who use formula. The government has rejected the call by health experts and its own advisors, including those representing Trading Standards officers, calling for warnings that powdered formula is not sterile and improved instructions on how to reduce the risks.

In its spinning of the regulations last month, the government's line was the small changes it was making to restrict advertising was to increase breastfeeding rates, which provoked a backlash in parts of the media.

Empowering mothers to breastfeed is, indeed, part of the aim of the international standards, but so is protecting those who use formula.

So that is the question I hope Mr. Johnson will answer on Thursday at 5 pm. Why has the government abandoned parents to the misleading information from the formula companies instead of protecting their right to accurate information.

Remember the parents in Belgium who took legal action over the death of their child from contaminated formula and the fact they were not informed of the risks. They lost their case because Nestlé had complied with the law on labelling, even if it did not alert parents of the known risks and how to reduce them. Companies in the UK will be able to make the same claim if such tragedies occur here. Unless Mr. Johnson changes the proposed regulations.

Please do register your own question and return on Thursday to hear the answer, if there will be an answer. See:
http://www.webchat.pm.gov.uk/index.asp?webchatID=62

Monday, December 03, 2007

eDemocracy in action in the UK - or perhaps not

A while ago I signed a petition on the Number 10 website. This is a great system that has been introduced by the government in the UK, where people can create petitions, invite people to sign and prompt a response from our leaders. On Thursday we will have the opportunity to participate in another approach to eDemocracy by putting questions to the Secretary of State for Health, who will be taking part in a live web chat as I explain below.

The petition created by Rachel Coleman Finch was similar to an Early Day Motion one of the MPs who supports our campaign put forward. You can find further information on the Parliamentary Campaign in our press release at:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press20july07.html

You can read it with the government's response at:
http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page13952.asp

The petition stated:

---Quote begins
According to a government survey, 34% of mothers in the UK incorrectly believe that formula is the same or almost the same as breastfeeding.

Regulations already exist (The Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995) outlawing marketing and labelling which implies formula is the same or almost the same as breastfeeding. They are currently being broken by most formula manufacturers in the UK.

Mothers have a right to know the truth about the differences between formula feeding and breastfeeding, in order to make an informed decision about feeding their baby. Aggressive marketing by the formula manufacturers undermines this.

The existing law should be properly enforced, including bringing prosecutions against any company currently breaking it.
---quote ends

We could add it is not just the difference between formula and breastfeeding that parents need objective, independent information about, but the differences between formulas. The information from the companies is misleading and idealising, as you realise when you look at claims as to which formula is the best. The government response to the petition stated:

---Quote begins
The Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services and the relevant enforcement authorities have met to discuss the actions that are being taken on the use of claims in relation to infant formula. As a result of this meeting, the major manufacturers of infant formula have been reminded of their legal responsibilities with particular regard to compositional claims and discussions are currently underway to discuss how full compliance with the appropriate legislation can be achieved.

The FSA recently consulted on a draft revision of the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations which propose further to clarify the rules relating to the use of claims and to restrict the advertising of infant formula. The FSA is exploring ways to make the new regulations as clear as possible. The FSA will consult publicly on draft guidance which will accompany the new regulations and will provide further guidance to industry and enforcement authorities on how to interpret the new regulations including the labelling and advertising restrictions.
---quote ends

Well hurrah, discussions are underway about how company compliance with a law introduced in 1995 will be achieved. Let us hope for some progress soon. There was applause around the world when the FSA launched a crackdown on illegal claims, but it has swiftly faded as there has been no follow through when companies have introduced labels that are, in some ways, worse than before (see the global monitoring report launched last week).

And hurrah, the Food Standards Agency did indeed consult on a draft revision of the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations. But the answer doesn't report that the FSA then refused to act on the recommendations of its own expert advisors, such as the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and LACORS (the umbrella body for Trading Standards, who will have to enforce the regulations). Nor on the advice of independent experts.

In its response to the report from the Baby Feeding Law Group, representing UK health worker and mother support groups, called "Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula", the government suggested its hands were tied by the European Union, but it would pursue some of the proposals (such as improved information for those who use formula) in a voluntary agreement with the formula companies. As I have noted before, companies have so far demonstrated their unwillingness to comply voluntarily - and Hipp has dismissed the FSA guidance to parents (see our company telephone 'careline' spot monitoring). The government's approach was not viewed as very satisfactory by health advocates. See our press release:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press21nov07.html

So the consultation and petition on the Downing Street website give the appearance of consulting experts and the public, but do not appear to result in any changes to the pro-industry line of the government. It is perhaps not surprising that the industry body welcomed the proposed regulations and accompanying guidance notes now out for consultation. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/11/photographic-evidence.html

Perhaps putting a question to Alan Johnson MP, the Secretary of State for Health, will help raise the profile of the need for long overdue regulation of the formula companies.

There will be a web chat on Thursday 6 December from 17:00. You can submit questions in advance and I encourage you to do so. See:
http://www.webchat.pm.gov.uk/index.asp?webchatID=62

Then let us log in to see if the response acknowledges the need for action. As I wrote last week, the UK is shamed in a new global monitoring report for its failure to implement the marketing requirements. See our press release at:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press29nov07.html

This is what I have asked:

---
The Government has responded to the consultation on the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (conducted by the Food Standards Agency), indicating it will not act on the recommendations of its own Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and LACORS (representing Trading Standards officers) and the health worker organisations and mother support groups that form the Baby Feeding Law Group and Breastfeeding Manifesto Coalition.

As Mr. Johnson professes to support the notion of preventative health care why is the Government not taking action such as ensuring those parents who use formula have the independent information they need to understand the differences between what is on the market and how to reduce risk of possible contamination of powdered formula with harmful bacteria? This and other recommendations were included in the BFLG submission "Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula" which advocated implementation of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for breastmilk substitutes as many other countries have done.
---

The more people who raise this issue, the more likely Mr. Johnson is to reply. So do pop along to:
http://www.webchat.pm.gov.uk/index.asp?webchatID=62

Friday, November 30, 2007

The influence of the formula and dairy industry in the UK

More bad news for the UK government and Trading Standards. I wrote yesterday of how applause for the UK crackdown on illegal claims on infant formula labels has quickly faded as companies have launched new labels which are, in some ways, worse. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/11/uk-shamed.html

The labels introduced since the crackdown are highlighted in the report Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2007 from the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), launched at a meeting in Asia this week. The report makes special mention of other practices in the UK. We are ashamed that the lack of action from the UK government to implement the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods makes the country a test bed for aggressive strategies.

The profile on NUMICO leads with tactics developed to target health workers and mothers, as first exposed in our pamphlet Hard Sell Formula.

Here is the feature in the Breaking the Rules report:

Click on the image for a larger version.

We have repeatedly drawn the attention of government Ministers and civil servants to these practices.

Earlier this year I spoke directly with the then Minister for Public Health, Caroline Flint MP, about the mail shot branded with the Cow & Gate formula logo which states: "I'm thinking of getting a t-shirt made - Danger! Sore boobs!"

See my blog:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/05/launch-of-breastfeeding-manifesto.html

So why is it that Ministers continue to refuse to implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly in UK legislation. Why do they ignore the advice of their own Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and the health professional bodies and mother support groups that make up the Baby Feeding Law Group, which submitted the report Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula to the consultation on revising the law?

Is it because it is not only those who put infant health first who make recommendations to Ministers? The Infant and Dietetic Foods Association, the industry body, opposed any strengthening of regulations in its submission to the government.

At the Labour Party Conference, Nestlé, which wants to break into the UK formula market by offering financial support to health workers, funded a fringe meeting and shared a platform with Caroline Flint's successor, Dawn Primarolo MP. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/11/uk-under-pressure.html

And we have recently learned that the government will be appointing a new head to the Food Standards Agency responsible for drafting legislation and accompanying guidance notes in this area. It is Tim Smith, who comes from the dairy industry. As the FSA website informs us: "He has spent his entire career in the food business". See:
http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2007/nov/timsmith

Can we expect a dairy man to take a robust line with the formula industry? He will certainly need to.

The government has refused to make it a statutory requirement that formula companies warn on labels that powdered formula is not sterile or to require clear instructions on how to reduce the risks of possible contamination with bacteria. We argue such regulations are essential because the companies are not warning parents and misadvise on their telephone 'carelines'. When I conducted spot monitoring, Hipp's advisor even argued against the Food Standards Agency guidance to parents.

The government proposes a voluntary agreement with the industry instead of legislation and is consulting on 'guidance notes'. Mr. Smith will be taking over in March as the consultation ends and it will fall to the former dairy man to pursue the agreement with the formula industry if the government approach goes unchallenged. You can challenge it by sending a message to the Minsters here:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/CEM/cemnov07.html

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Global report shames UK for lack of follow through on health claims crackdown

Now to the UK's shameful performance. I wrote yesterday about the new monitoring report from the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) which shows that Nesté continues widespread, systematic violations of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods. Though the boycott has been instrumental in closing down some practices, such as promoting complementary foods from too early an age in many countries, new strategies have emerged, particularly the medicalisation of infant feeding and promotion of formula with idealizing health claims.

The good news is that some countries are taking action. The Philippines, thanks to an international campaign of support, is prohibiting health claims such as Nestlé's 'brain building blocks' boast about ingredients in its Nestogen infant formula.

Earlier this year the UK was applauded around the world for cracking down on health claims on labels of infant formula in the UK. There was international publicity for the move by the Food Standards Agency to finally enforce the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995 which only allow claims specified in the law to be used, if certain conditions are satisfied. We recognised the letters that the FSA sent to the companies reminding them of the law introduced 12 years before, as a significant advance. See:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press12march07.html

But as I have tracked on this blog and we have reported in our newsletter, companies may have changed labels as a result, but they continue to use claims that are not on the permitted list and are getting away with it.

The Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2007 report acknowledges the action by the UK authorities, but notes that the new labels produced by the likes of Wyeth/SMA and NUMICO (owner of Milupa and Cow & Gate) are, in some ways, worse. Indeed, the profile on Wyeth highlights the new SMA labels in the UK as particularly scandalous. See:
http://www.ibfan.org/site2005/Pages/article.php?art_id=510&iui=1

Click on the image for a larger version if you cannot read its message: "From bad to worse".

Now it may well be that action will be taken over this label by the enforcement authorities. We have certainly complained vociferously about the way Wyeth and other companies have demonstrated their contempt for the regulations. But the wheels turn slowly and 9 months on from the launch of these labels onto the market, no visible action has been taken. My view is the companies should be prosecuted.

It does not bode well for the proposed new regulations which the government is suggesting will be made to work through 'robust guidelines' if companies can show contempt for the existing legislation and get away with it.

The Baby Feeding Law Group report Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula, submitted to the government consultation stressed that clear implementation of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements in binding legislation is needed, not narrower measures in guidelines. See:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/shop/publications01.html#bflgsubmission

The UK was applauded at the beginning of the year for the crackdown on health claims. The lack of follow through has led to it being shamed in a global report that suggests companies have been permitted to go from bad to worse.

The world will continue to watch to see whether the government will rectify the situation by enforcing existing regulations and strenghtening them to close loopholes.

At the moment the signs do not look good. You can send a message to the Ministers responsible at:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/CEM/cemnov07.html

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Branded from birth - IBFAN's new monitoring report exposes baby milk marketing trends

Our partners at the International Code Documentation Centre (ICDC) have presented the new International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) monitoring report at a training event for policy makers in Asia.

IBFAN trains policy makers on implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, releveant World Health Assembly Resolutions in legislation. Independently monitored and enforced regulations are necessary to ensure compliance as companies do not fulfill their obligation under Article 11.3 of the Code to abide by its provisions independently.

The new monitoring report, Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2007, shows the depths to which companies sink where there are no regulations. Nestlé is again leading the way in innovative strategies and, as market leader, sets trends others feel compelled to follow to compete. Here is an example highlighted in the Nestlé profile from China:

It says: "In some hospitals in China, babies are 'branded from birth' with identification tages bearing the Nestlé name and logo."

You may recall our campaign exposing a marketing strategy launched by Nestlé Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, to target 'pregnant and lactating women' in China with 'nutrition corners' in supermarkets. Nestlé's anti-boycott team, led by Beverley Mirando in the UK, attempted to excuse the practice, arguing that only milks for older babies were on display. See:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/CEMresponses/CEMRdec05.html#1

These strategies for branding babies as Nestlé babies are to develop what Mr. Brabeck sees as a growth market. We will call on his designated successor, Mr. Paul Bulcke, to accept the four-point plan aimed at saving lives and ultimately ending the boycott, but the signs are not good as he drove growth of infant nutrition products in the Americas and has also cited China and India as the engines for growth in the company. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/09/new-boss-old-boss.html

The good news is that where there are strong regulations, these can be effective at stopping violations. In Brazil median breastfeeding rates have increased from less than 3 months to ten months thanks, in part, to strong regulations. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/09/uk-law-consultation.html

Other good news is that the boycott can force some policy shifts, and was instrumental in persuading Nestlé to change its policy on promoting complementary foods from too early an age - though this does still happen. This was a point I made in the press release issued by our partners. See:
http://www.ibfan.org/site2005/Pages/article.php?iui=1&art_id=525&articulo_id=942

The bad news is, Nestlé continues to systematically violate the Code and Resolutions where it can get away with it, as the report demonstrates.

The other bad news is that NUMICO - parent company of Nutricia, Milupa and Cow & Gate and recently bought by Danone - is trying to capture what it calls 'stomach share' - that is, get its formula into infants instead of that of competitors and breastmilk. This has seen a rise in violations to the point where it is rivalling the market leader, Nestlé.

Nestlé may attempt to give the false impression it has changed itself. This is not the case - rather it has driven the industry to new depths, particularly in Asia. IBFAN will be contacting Danone, the new owners of NUMICO to call on it to change the practices of these companies. The International Nestlé Boycott Committee will consider how to bring consumer pressure to bear on Danone/NUMICO if it does not respond.

We will also continue with the strategies we know achieve change and are ultimately saving lives: keeping Nestlé, the market leader, under pressure from the boycott and working for legislation that compels compliance by all companies with the marketing requirements.

You can read profiles of all the major companies and obtain full monitoring results at:
http://www.ibfan.org/site2005/Pages/article.php?art_id=510&iui=1

Baby Milk Action is arranging to stock printed copies of the report when this is available.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Nestlé Nespresso - something else to boycott

We have had a lot of traffic to the website today as people respond to comments on an article about Nestlé's Nespresso machine in The Guardian newspaper.

Thank you to the reader who posted a link to:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/resources/boycott/nestlefree.html

You can read more at:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2216964,00.html

The Nespresso machine uses disposable pods containing the coffee, which are only available from Nestlé by joining a club, which results in direct mail promoting a lifestyle as well as the product.

This product is advertised by George Clooney, who was questioned at the Venice Film Festival recently about the conflict of him working for Nestlé and his humanitarian and campaigning work. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/09/george-clooney-coverage.html

Curiously, like stars who advertise whisky in Japan, Mr. Clooney refuses to advertise Nestlé in his home country of the US. See Bloomberg:
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=aJ1bUQLaBYew&refer=home

Monday, November 26, 2007

Janipher's story in The Guardian

You may recall the campaign to reunite a young Ugandan woman, Janipher Maseko, with her children. See my past blog at:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/07/janipher-reunited.html

Janipher is now living with her children in a one-bedroom flat, awaiting the outcome of her asylum application.

You can read her story, as told to The Guardian (24 November), at:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/family/story/0,,2215967,00.html

Many thanks to everyone who sent messages to politicians and officials.

We continue to support campaigns on similar cases where authorities do not recognise the right of mothers to breastfeed or provide expressed milk to their babies. A current case concerns a mother whose child was removed by Essex social services. See:
http://one-of-those-women.blogspot.com/2007/11/request-for-support-for-breastfeeding.html

Friday, November 23, 2007

Don't mothers who use formula deserve protection?

So here we go again. Articles on moves to regulate the marketing of breastmilk substitutes in the UK are followed by opinion pieces attacking 'breastfeeding bullies'.

Here is one in today's Daily Express:
http://www.express.co.uk/ourcomments/view/26106/Jennifer-Selway

One of the great things with newspapers like the Express is you are able to leave comments. This is mine:

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DON'T MOTHERS WHO USE FORMULA DESERVE PROTECTION?

23.11.07, 1:17pm

It is very sad that there is not greater understanding over why the UK government is being called on to introduce the baby formula marketing standards adopted by the World Health Assembly and introduced by many other countries.

The aim of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes - which companies are called on to abide by independently of government measures - clearly states it is to protect and promote breastfeeding AND to ensure breastmilk substitutes are used safely if necessary.

One of the great failures of the regulations that the government plans to introduce is they do not require companies to warn parents that powdered formula is not sterile and the simple steps to reduce risks of possible contamination with bacteria. The government has said that it will pursue a voluntary agreement with the industry. But this is an issue known about for years. The Food Standards Agency published its guidance to parents in 2005, but companies have not put this on their labels, despite launching new ones in 2007. A spot survey of company telephone carelines by Baby Milk Action found companies continue to misadvise parents.

It is also a mistake to believe advertising provides objective information - it does not. How could every company's claim that its formula is closer to breastmilk than its competitors to be true? Parents need objective, accurate, independent information and that is what the international standards aim for.

The Baby Feeding Law Group, a coalition of 22 health professional and mother support groups, submitted a report to the government consultation called 'Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula' which contains plenty more evidence of how the industry and the government are failing parents.
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Unfortunately some journalists find it is an easier narrative to pursue a bottle feeding v. breastfeeding angle, rather than examine why commercial pressure needs to be removed from the critically important area of infant feeding.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Industry response to the UK formula regulations - and photographic evidence

There have been reports in all the major dailies in the UK and quite a few websites about the new Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations which the government plans to put before Parliament shortly. It announced these yesterday and launched a consultation on the guidelines to go with them.

You can find out more and follow links to some of the media coverage from our press release at:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press21nov07.html

As you will see Baby Milk Action or other members of the Baby Feeding Law Group are quoted in most of the reports.

I won't go through what's in the press release again here, but will write highlight two things with the media coverage today.

Firstly, my colleague Patti Rundall, came in with some of the papers and we were looking through them. There was a massive picture in one of the papers of some formula on a supermarket shelf. 'That's my picture!' I exclaimed. Patti didn't believe me, pointing out that formula is sold in a lot of supermarkets. But I was adamant I recognised the picture and quickly pulled it up on our flickr photo archive. We link to this from our website.

You can find the archive at:
http://www.flickr.com/babymilkaction/

A great innovation for hard-pressed picture editors, and one that clearly helped out the paper in question on this occassion. But if you are planning to use an image, please do check out the copyright restrictions. And a fee would be appreciated when possible. We would also like to be informed where images are used.

The second point is the industry position which appeared on the BBC website at:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7105403.stm

---
Roger Clarke, head of the Infant and Dietetic Foods Association, said the new guidelines looked to be a "pretty sensible, measured approach from the government, although industry will still have to look in detail at what is planned".

He added: "All the data suggests that advertising is not a factor when it comes to women's decision to choose infant formula over breastfeeding. There are many other issues, from physical pain to achieving a balanced lifestyle."
---

This is the same IDFA which opposed any strengthening of the regulations in the consultation just finished. Our press release quotes their response.

So if IDFA is happy with the guidelines that is a bad sign.

In the separate consultation on those we will be calling on your assistance in strengthening them. As I wrote yesterday, the government has said that in the guidelines it will interpret the legislation in light of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly.

The press release links to the draft guidelines. They make interesting reading, well, at least they are if you are like me and see the significance of individual words being included or not.

Whether IDFA will be so supportive when it comes to its submission on the guidelines remains to be seen. For example, what does it really make of the proposal that follow-on formula must be sold in a separate part of the supermarket to the infant formula? The government shied away from banning the promotion of follow-on milk and this is a proposal for stopping follow-on formula promotion functioning to also promote infant formula.

At present the follow-on formula promotions are used to promote the full range. They dominate the infant feeding sections, and most people wouldn't register they escape through loopholes in the law because they don't specifically mention infant formula.

If you want to see some pictures, visit our photo archive.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On dark arts and spinning

Today was a sad day. Stories of political dark arts and media spinning are true it seems. How disappointing.

Here is what happened.

At 10:30 I was part of a delegation meeting the UK Minister for Public Health to discuss the forthcoming Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations, put out for consultation earlier this year. Last week we asked supporters to send a final message to the Minister to support the call for the regulations to be brought into line with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions. This is the position of the health worker bodies, mother support groups and other organisations belonging to the Baby Feeding Law Group and Breastfeeding Manifesto Coalition.

The Government's own Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and LACORS (the coordinating body for Trading Standards officers, responsible for enforcing the regulations) were calling for many of the same specific things, such as an outright ban on the advertising of follow-on formula.

The invitation to brief the Minister directly today was a great opportunity and suggested seriousness on the part of government to engage.

Yet at 9:30 the Minister was at a press conference telling the media the regulations had been finalised. A press release was issued at 10:00 hailing them as "stricter controls on the promotion, labelling and composition of infant and follow-on formula". See:
http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2007/nov/infantformulareg

So as journalists were filing their stories we were out of contact in the meeting with the Minister learning for the first time that there was no opportunity to influence the regulations further (well, we can take action such as a judicial review, but that is a consideration for another day). It emerged we were there simply to be briefed on a new consultation on the guidelines to accompany the regulations.

And it seems that we were only supposed to learn of the press conference by reading of the launch in the media after the meeting.

Coupled with the public announcement, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has today published its response to the consultation submissions. If you are one of the organisations or thousand plus people who responded to the consultation you will find the response here:
http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/
consultationresponse/formulasiresponseeng07.pdf


The finalised regulations themselves do not appear, but it is clear from the responses that little if anything has been changed as a result of the consultation. Our press release concerning this disappointing news can be found at:
http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press21nov07.html

The government press release does promise: "Robust guidance for industry and enforcement authorities to correctly apply the new law".

We are now asked to believe that we have an opportunity to influence the guidance in the consultation opened today. See:
http://www.food.gov.uk/consultations/consulteng/2007/infformnewguide07eng

Indeed, it has been suggested the guidance goes some way to bring the UK closer to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The FSA consultation response states: "The Agency considers that the Directive [from which the regulations derive] should be interpreted in the light of the Code. The guidance seeks to do this."

In the Baby Feeding Law Group submission report Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula we argued guidance notes are not the best approach as they do not have the same status as regulations and from our experience of the current situation, Trading Standards officers look to the regulations and interpret them while sometimes being unaware of the guidance notes.

Allowing follow-on formula advertising to continue, along with company carelines and websites (which are not permitted by the World Health Assembly marketing requirements), means parents will continue to be bombarded with misleading, inaccurate and sometimes dangerous messages. I wrote here yesterday how company carelines directly contradict government advice on reducing the risk of possible contamination of powdered formula. Surely it is better to direct parents to accurate, independent sources of information than expect companies to change voluntarily (when they have failed to do so already) or expecting poorly resourced organisations such as ours and Trading Standards to police these well-resourced company marketing channels. See:
http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/11/monitoring-carelines.html

All the same, we will prepare a full analysis and response on the draft guidance notes in due course to try to make these as strong as possible. If the government has taken on board some of our concerns in the guidance notes we will give acknowledge this.

That is for the future. Today I am disappointed that the previous consultation did not result in changes to the regulations.

More than this I am shocked and disappointed at the attempt to put the government line into the media without forewarning us this would be done today, leaving us to learn of it through the media. I can't speak for others at the meeting, but this does not seem to be the way to build trust with stakeholders.

The only reason I am not more annoyed is because we did manage to get the Baby Feeding Law Group position into the media reports despite the government's best efforts to have a clear run at spinning the regulations. For example, this is in the Daily Mail piece: Baby follow-on milk adverts tightened but not banned

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Baby Milk Action, which represents the Baby Feeding Law Group coalition of 22 organisations, had called for a total ban on all baby milk formula advertising and online promotions.

It also called for infant formula company representatives to be banned from having contact with mothers via their telephone carelines or other channels.

The campaign group wanted a ban on promotional claims and images on infant milk formula product labelling and improved warnings and instructions.
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Perhaps we are not as naive as some may think.