Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Baby denied milk for 18 hours at UK detention centre

Every few months it seems there is a scandal at Yarlswood Immigration Detention Centre in the UK over the way a mother and baby are treated.

The latest case concerns a baby who was only allowed water for 18 hours, despite concerted efforts from supporters to provide correctly-prepared formula.

You can support action by contacting Alison Blenkinsop, whose message is reproduced below with her permission. This was taken from:

---Message from Alison Blenkinsop

Baby denied milk for 18 hours ‘not starved’ says head of the UK’s Detention Services, UK Border Agency

On Wednesday 2 July 2008 at about 11pm, I was visiting an online Yahoo! group for breastfeeding supporters. An urgent request had just been posted by Morgan Gallagher, Chair of Nursing Matters, an advocacy organisation for mothers and babies. I could hardly believe what I was reading.

Morgan’s main concerns were as follows.

Baby C (born 27th March) had been removed to Yarl's Wood Detention Centre in Bedford at the age of eight weeks, with her mother and two siblings aged four and six. Her mother, who had successfully breastfed the older two, had been advised for medical reasons to feed Baby C with formula.

The Department of Health states that infant formula milk should be made up with freshly-boiled water at 70ºC, cooled and given immediately. Any left-over milk should be discarded. (See NHS Direct website). In Yarl’s Wood, powdered formula is locked in an office, and mothers must queue up and sign for it. Making up fresh batches each time is therefore extremely difficult for them. The formula has to be made up before 11pm, and then used from that bottle all night long. No refrigeration is available, and mothers are given bottle-warmers to warm the nighttime feeds made several hours earlier. This poses further health risks.

Baby C suffered repeated bouts of gastro-enteritis after arriving at Yarl's Wood, initially with projectile vomiting. Her mother took her care very seriously, and after being given leaflets by Morgan on safe formula preparation, refused to give the baby feeds which were not freshly prepared. She used anti-bacterial soap given by Morgan to scrub everything that the baby’s bottles came into contact with. The projectile vomiting stopped, but the diarrhoea persisted. This resulted in faltering growth. When C was first detained, her weight had been charted at just under the 98th percentile. Four weeks later, no growth had occurred, and her weight line was now just above the 75th percentile – actually a loss of weight from what was expected.

On Monday June 30th, C was taken to Bedford Hospital with a suspected chest infection. She was seen by a paediatrician, who prescribed an elemental, hypo-allergenic formula to address the feeding problems. She returned to Yarl's Wood that evening, with one 500g tin of elemental formula from Bedford Hospital, and a note from the hospital that more would be required.

By the afternoon of Wednesday July 2nd, the tin of formula was nearly empty. The mother was assured that more would be obtained. At 7.30pm, Morgan received an urgent phone call from a volunteer from Medical Justice, stating that no elemental formula was available at Yarl's Wood. Morgan rang the centre, and was told by the night manager the following:

· there was no elemental formula in the compound

· Yarl's Wood medical team knew it was needed, but had not prescribed it in advance

· the mother had been told by a qualified nurse that the doctor on duty, who was contacted by telephone but who did not examine the baby, had said that the baby should have boiled water with sugar, or Dioralyte rehydration fluid

· no other action would be taken overnight, other than to offer the mother sugar, or Dioralyte.

At 8.15pm, Morgan told the night staff that she could collect a prescription from Yarl's Wood, obtain formula from an all-night chemist, and return it immediately. This offer was rejected. The reason given was that formula had to be processed through ‘the system’. Instead, the mother was given two boxes of Dioralyte to feed to Baby C through the night.

Morgan’s request on the chat group was for help in protesting about this baby’s treatment. I was appalled by this account, and resolved to do what I could to help.

On the morning of Thursday 3 July I spent two hours on the telephone in an attempt to help address this situation. The responses I had from Yarl’s Wood and Social Services was extremely worrying. I was assured by a Yarl’s Wood manager and social workers that food was not withheld from detainees, yet the baby had still not been fed by late morning. At 1pm, I heard from Morgan that Baby C had at last been given some formula, some 18 hours after her last milk feed.

A few days later, I sent an email to Brian Pollett, Head of Detention Services, asking for an explanation and assurances that such a situation would never be allowed in future.

14th July

Dear Mr Pollett

I am writing to express my outrage at the treatment of a 3-month old baby, C, currently detained with her mother at Yarl's Wood, overnight on Wednesday 2nd July 2008.

Baby C needed a specialist formula milk, but none was made available from about 7pm on 2nd July to 1pm on 3rd July. Instead, her mother was advised to give rehydration fluids, or water. A letter was sent to a Yarl's Wood visitor by Gillian Foley, Area Manager, Detention Services, to explain how the situation had arisen and been managed. I quote:

'On the advice of the centre doctor, (the baby's mother) was recommended to feed C overnight with boiled water and Dioralyte until the prescription could be filled.'

A 3-month old baby requires milk every few hours, including overnight. A 6 kg bottle-fed baby should have access to around 900 ml of formula in 24 hours. Giving plain water can be dangerous. If a baby needs rehydration fluids, these should not be given in place of milk when the baby is able to take a milk feed. Withholding food from a young baby is extremely distressing to both child and mother, and especially dangerous to one already showing signs of malnutrition; baby C had gained no weight in four weeks of detention.

I am also very concerned that when I was first made aware of these concerns, I was unable to contact anyone at Yarl's Wood directly through the telephone system at 9.45 am on Thursday 3rd. The automated system kept being repeated, so I had to leave messages on various answerphones, unrelated to my query, in the hope of talking with someone. Eventually my call was returned by Mr X, residential Manager, at about 10.30. He told me: 'We do not refuse food to detainees', and claimed that formula was available for baby C. (I omitted to tell Mr Pollett that this manager gave me the name of the mother and child, which I did not know until then, in a blatant breach of confidentiality.) However, the baby was not fed for another 2½ hours after this.

I also rang Bedford Social Services, who told me that they could do nothing about child protection unless the Yarl's Wood staff contacted them first. I was then put in touch with Ms Y, social worker at Yarl's Wood, and she passed me on to her colleague Ms Z. They said they were unaware of this situation, and stated that they would investigate, but claimed that babies were not put at risk in this way at Yarl's Wood. In two hours of telephone calls, I felt I had come up against a brick wall of indifference.

I am writing to various agencies including the NSPCC and the Children's Society about this situation. Baby C's life was put at risk by deliberate starvation. In the UK, we expect that children who are mistreated will be removed to a place of safety. Even domestic animals are protected from negligent owners. It appears that babies under the care of our Government in Yarl's Wood enjoy no such protection.

I believe that you are aware of this situation. I would like to know what is being done to ensure that this appalling treatment is not repeated. I would also like assurances that the current dangerous and criminal neglect of young babies and their mothers at Yarl's Wood, which has been reported by many people and from which this particular incident arose, will be immediately addressed.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Mrs Alison Blenkinsop RM DipHe IBCLC

Media Liaison, Lactation Consultants of Great Britain

Address/telephone number

On 28th July, I received a reply from Mr Pollett, in which he stated the following:


‘Your assertions of mistreatment of Baby C are without foundation…. I simply cannot agree with the concluding statement of your letter that the care of young babies and their mothers at Yarl's Wood is dangerous and constitutes criminal neglect…. I absolutely reject your allegation that Baby C was deliberately starved.’


There are many extremely worrying aspects of detainees’ treatment by the UK Borders Agency. This is just one of them. If you disagree with Mr Pollett’s view of this treatment of Baby C, and wish me to tell him what you think, please contact me with your name, and any professional qualifications you hold, and I will pass on your message.

NB I have permission from Baby C’s mother to discuss her case as appropriate.

Alison Blenkinsop IBCLC, DipHE

International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and midwife

aliblenk AT

(Nursing Matters has facillitated this web page on Ms Blenkinsop’s request. She does not speak for Nursing Matters and her work on this baby’s welfare is being done under her own professional brief. Nursing Matters is more than happy to offer this facility to her in her campaign for justice for Baby C, and her pressing for an undertaking by UK Borders Agency that such an outrage is never allowed to re-occur.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Arnie terminates transfats in California

If you have read my chapter in the book Global Obligations for the Right to Food - or this blog - then you will have seen the lessons learned from different ways of encouraging companies to reduce the level of transfats in foods. In short, with regulations they do so, with encouragement for voluntary action they, at best, introduce some low-transfat products and market them as healthier, putting the onus on the consumer to choose the healthier option and, most likely, pay extra for the privilege.

Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor of California, is taking on the food industry and has signed a law requiring companies to remove transfats from products by 2010.

There is a report here on the BBC website:

This states: "A review by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006 concluded that there was a strong connection between the consumption of trans-fats and coronary heart disease. It found they boosted "bad" cholesterol levels in the body. The review said that eliminating artificial trans-fats from the food supply could prevent between six and 19% of heart attacks and related deaths each year."

They are used to extend the shelf life of products and have no nutritional benefit.

The move was opposed by the California Restaurant Association according to the BBC.

Thanks to Rob A for posting the link on a comment to an earlier blog here. I really do appreciate people alerting me to information they think may be useful.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Calendar reduced - great breastfeeding pictures from around the world

We still have a few copies of our 2008 breastfeeding calendar available. Though the months are passing, the breastfeeding pictures from around the world are a useful resource. For example, some clinics laminate them to display on their walls.

We have now reduced the price to £3.00 including UK postage and packing.

Take a look at the pictures and order at:

Friday, July 25, 2008

A diverting campaign on obesity

Just a few facts....

In 2002 a report from UBS Warburg investment bank said that 46% of Nestlé income was from 'less healthy foods' and at risk if governments brought in regulations to tackle the epidemic of obesity.

Nestlé's Chairman and former Chief Executive, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, decided to rebrand the firm as a Nutrition, Health and Wellness company.

Breastfed infants are less likely to be obese. Nestlé's aggressive marketing of formula undermines breastfeeding.

Nestlé is currently trying to enter the mass UK formula market, with the help of television celebrity, Dr. Miriam Stoppard. This is particularly bad news as Nestlé drives down formula marketing standards of the industry as a whole.

Nestlé cereals have been criticised for being high in salt and fat - Nestlé relies on Shredded Wheat, which is 100% wheat, to provide it cover. The UK Advertising Standards Authority ruled in June against a Nestlé cereal advertisement calling on people to eat three servings of 'whole grains' every day.

Regulations in Denmark have forced food companies to cut levels of transfats in foods, but Nestlé and the food industry as a whole is pressing for voluntary action elsewhere.

Nestlé sponsored a fringe meeting at the last Labour Party Conference and thereby shared a platform with the Minister for Public Health.

In May, The Independent on Sunday (IoS) reported: "An investigation by the IoS has uncovered strong ties between Nestlé, the world's largest baby milk manufacturer, and the Department of Health. Rosie Cooper, a parliamentary private secretary to the Health minister Ben Bradshaw, is undergoing a year-long Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship with Nestlé, and in February went for a week to South Africa as a guest of the group to oversee its corporate social responsibility activities." Where apparently she didn't notice Nestlé breaking South African regulations in the way it markets its formula there.

Nestlé sponsored a conference on obesity in July, attended by the Chief Medical Officer.

In October 2007, I queried how the government would respond to a report it had commissioned called Tackling Obesities: Future Choices. The Public Health Minister commented in her introduction: "As the report demonstrates, there is no quick and easy solution to tackling obesity." Would the government act on the recommendations for increasing breastfeeding rates by implementing the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby milks? The answer turned out to be no. It has not.

What about taking legislative action along the lines of Denmark? The book 'Global Obligations for the Right to Food' argues that it has human rights obligations to improve diets.

It seems not. Instead the government is embarking on an advertising campaign encouraging people to exercise more. Important, but it should not be a diversion.

Yet the government has 200 million reasons to be diverted. The campaign is being funded to the tune of £200 million by Coca-Cola, Kellogg's, Mars, Nestle and Tesco, all to some degree or other responsible for promoting 'less healthy foods'.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Beware of Nestlé spying

The Swiss campaign group, ATTAC, has launched a legal action against Nestlé and Securitas after it was revealed that the world's largest food company had sent a spy to infiltrate the group while it was preparing a book exposing company practices.

Although Nestlé claimed in a statement that the spy was sent to check whether Nestlé buildings were to be targeted during the G8 summit in Evian in 2003, ATTAC points out that the spy only joined their group some time after the G8 was over. The spy infiltrated the sub-group working on the book on Nestlé. See:

I was a guest speaker at an event in June 2004 in Nestlé's home town of Vevey, Switzerland, where this book was launched. ATTAC said the spying continued until summer 2004 so it is possible my messages to the group about the event and concerns about Nestlé were sent straight on to the company.

We have had our own concerns about possible underhand activities in the past, such as when students informed us that when Nestlé came to speak at their college they were approached by people claiming to be from Baby Milk Action and wanting to speak about their plans for promoting the boycott. Baby Milk Action was not informed of the event and had sent no-one (at that time - as now - Nestlé refused to speak if we were present). The people claiming to be from Baby Milk Action were seen to leave with the Nestlé speaker. At the time I wrote to Hilary Parsons, Nestlé's Head of Corporate Affairs, and received a denial that this had ever happened.

We expect Nestlé to be paying attention to what we are doing - the point of the boycott is to get its attention to prompt changes. Nestlé's preference is to respond with denials and to embark on public relations campaigns to divert attention from concerns. Reading that Nestlé has apparently admitted that spying is also part of its strategy does not come as a surprise.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Harassment of breastfeeding mothers - is it a peculiarly British failing?

The breastfeeding picnics that took place on Monday 21 July 2008 generated media coverage both before and after the events. The aim was to celebrate and assert the right to breastfeed in public and to call for better legal protection against harassment.

The fact that protection is needed was demonstrated after the event. According to organiser, Morgan Gallagher, speaking to Community Newswire today:

---extract begins

Ms Gallagher explained: "On the way home from London, two mums were harassed on the Tube, in two separate events. One mum was tutted at loudly for feeding her crying baby [another] was shouted at by a male commuter who 'didn't want to see that'.

"No wonder mums are inhibited from breastfeeding. In Scotland, the law was followed by a very thorough campaign to let everyone know that this was utterly unacceptable."

Negative remarks were also left on the comments pages of local newspaper websites in Oxford and Bournemouth in response to stories about the picnics.

Ms Gallagher added: "The hatred is frightening. All it takes is one article in a local English newspaper to scratch the surface, and it all comes pouring out.

---extract ends

It is odd why some British people should be so perplexed by breastfeeding in public. In Brazil, the land of topless samba dancers, where breasts are sexualised at least as much in the UK, breastfeeding in public is not only commonplace, but people react as if I am asking a stupid question when I enquire if they ever have any negative reaction from other people. Certainly Brazil has an imaginative breastfeeding promotion programme, but this does not include laws to protect breastfeeding mothers because the attitude encountered in Britain just does not seem to exist.

I'd be interested to know what people in other countries think. Are the British particularly odd in this regard, or are mothers harassed where you are?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dr. Miriam Stoppard's study on breastfeeding rates

I gather Dr. Miriam Stoppard is contacting Heads of Midwifery at UK hospitals requesting information on breastfeeding rates.

I am contacting her for further information about this study and any possible links with Nestlé, which is currently trying to break into the mass UK formula market through forming closer links with health workers.

Earlier this year, Dr. Stoppard invited health journalists to visit Nestlé HQ in Switzerland on an all-expenses-paid trip. See:

If you have been contacted and would like to be kept informed, please let me know.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The right to feed a baby in public

Breastfeeding picnics are taking place at various locations in the UK today (Monday 21 July 2008) to celebrate and assert a mother's right to feed her child in public - and to call for better and clearer protection of that right. See:

Although certain rights may seem self evident, in terms of national and international law they have to be written, or derived from other rights that are written. In practical terms, they have to be fought for, more often than not. So the Magna Carta established rights such as habeus corpus (the right not to be imprisoned without just cause) in the UK and made the King subject to the rule of law following a confrontation between King John and various land owners or Barons. The right of leaders to vote for their leaders has been a continual process of struggle, culminating in the UK with women gaining the right to vote through the effots of the sufragettes. The right to be free was won by those enslaved and their supporter in a protracted struggle, though, nonetheless, slavery continues as has been documented in the chocolate industry, for example, where campaigners have to battle still for Nestlé and other companies to ensure that child slaves are not used in producing their cocoa.

So it is with the right to feed a child, which has been infringed repeatedly. The right for a child to receive adequate nutrition already exists in international law. Dr. Arun Gupta explains this in his chapter on breastfeeding in the book ´Global Obligations for the Right to Food´, available from Baby Milk Action.

Note that while the following human rights provisions refer to breastfeeding, they also refer more broadly to nutrition and so also apply to mothers or other carers feeding with formula. The key instruments are the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which include the following:

Infants have the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Art. 24(1) CRC, Art. 12(1) ICESCR and to adequate nutritious food. Art. 24(2)(c) CRC, Art. 11(1) ICESCR.

Mothers have a right to education and SUPPORT in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding. CRC 24.2(e) CRC.

State Parties are OBLIGED to ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child. Art. 6(2) CRC.

Take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right. Art. 27(3) CRC.

The Innocenti Declaration, endorsed by the World Health Assembly, and the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, adopted by the Assembly give concrete actions deriving from these rights.

Human rights instruments, such as these conventions, put obligations on governments to deliver and protect these rights. They have to report to the United Nations system on how they are doing. Interestingly, the UK government has flagged up Scotland´s Breastfeeding etc. bill in its report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is to be scrutinised in September. The bill protects a mothers right to feed a child of up to two years of age with milk in a public place. Campaigners are calling for a similar law - better, one with no age limit - at the breastfeeding picnics taking place today.

Without a commitment to action to protect mothers and babies across the UK the government is setting itself up for embarassment before the Committee, where it is already due to be grilled over its failure to implement the marketing requirements for baby foods. See:

A child´s right to adequate nutritious food is not being protected if a mother is prevented from feeding a hungry baby due to the prejudices of others. Just last week, McDonald´s apologised after a mother was asked to stop breastfeeding her child. She came back with friends and staged a protest. The mother said: ´I had a proper maternity top on which is designed for breastfeeding so no one could see anything.´ See:

Certainly some people feel uncomfortable even with discreet breastfeeding taking place. But should their discomfort come before the well-being of mothers and babies, just because in their view it is not the ´done thing´ to breastfeed in public? No, is the answer. The government has an obligation to protect the mothers and babies.

The UK government has made rather a mess of trying to protect this right in legislation. As I reported here recently, it was suggesting in response to a petition on the 10 Downing Street website that mothers were only protected feeding infants up to 6 months of age. See:

Barry Durdant-Hollamby was one of those taking issue with the government over this and, following his discussion with the Cabinet Office, the response to the petition has been changed to read:

---extract from government response to petition calling for protection for breastfeeding in public

Some people seem to think that women can be arrested or charged for indecency for breastfeeding in public - this is wrong. There isn't, and never has been, any reason for a women not to breastfeed while on the street or in public.

In addition, there is already protection for women who are breastfeeding, whatever the age of the baby, wherever goods and services are provided - for example in shops, cafes, on buses etc. This is within existing sex discrimination law. There is also added protection under the grounds of 'maternity', so that there is even stronger protection for the first six months. The Equality Bill will make it explicit that maternity discrimination includes 'breastfeeding', so that women can be completely confident in the knowledge that the law is on their side if they want to breastfeed while going about their day-to-day business, without having to face the humiliation of for example being asked to leave a cafe by the owner.

---extract ends

Deputy Minister for Women, Barbara Follett was prompted to issue a statement, quoted by Barry, saying:

---Barbara Follett quote
Mothers have to be confident that they can breastfeed their infants in a café, restaurant or shop without the embarrassment of having the owner ask them to stop. This type of discrimination has in fact been unlawful for more than thirty years, and the mother - with a baby of any age - could challenge the owner under the Sex Discrimination Act.
---quote ends

She also admits:

---Barbara Follett quote
The law is not as clear as it could be. People are unsure of their rights and their responsibilities in this area. Some people also think that women can be charged with indecency for breastfeeding in a public place. This is utter nonsense and completely wrong.
---quote ends

Confusion arises because when complaints are made about a mother feeding a child, too often it is the mother who is censured, rather than the person making the complaint.

In addition, the Single Equality Bill, currently going through Parliament, is, according to statements made about it, seeking to protect breastfeeding in premises accessible to the public. At the draft stage there was no mention of breastfeeding, though government press statements led on supposed protection deriving from protection of ´maternity´ which, it was said, would include mothers breastfeeding children up to one year of age. More recent reports have suggested this will be babies up to 6 months of age. See:

At the consultation stage we called for breastfeeding to be mentioned explicitly with no age limit. There needs to be consistency and no confusing message that could give some the idea they have the right to stop mothers feeding babies over 6 months of age.

Campaigners organising the breastfeeding picnics agree that the present situation lacks clarity and are unimpressed by the claim that protection has existed for the past 30 years under sex discrimination legislation. See:

On her blog, Morgan Gallagher is highlighting the campaigners call for similar protection in the rest of the UK to that which exists in Scotland. The law there has gained a high public profile and, in a country where breastfeeding rates are particularly low and public breastfeeding is seen by some as against tradition, people know that they are in the wrong if they try to stop a mother feeding her child. Laws are not the whole of the story, but they do send a message and, if necessary, can be enforced.

The Convention of the Rights of the Child calls for states to take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children. Art. 24(3) CRC. If it is traditional to berate women for breastfeeding or to push them into the toilet, then action should be taken by the state.

Some may balk at the suggestion. There is something quite ingrained in some people against breastfeeding in public. While the fact that some people may find it difficult to change their view should be understood, their discomfort doesn´t trump the rights of mothers and babies.

Just as those who have a deep-seated dislike of people of different race, cannot put their dislike above the right of people not to be discriminated against. Or men who think they are more deserving because of their sex, cannot put this conceit above the right of equal treatment.

We can make our societies better. It is our right.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Celebrating breastfeeding in public in the UK

As I flagged up recently on this blog, there will be breastfeeding picnics taking place at various locations in the UK on Monday, 21 July. See:

They are intended to celebrate and assert a mother's right to breastfeed her child in public.

There has been some confusion recently around the Single Equality Bill going through Parliament at the moment and what this has to say on the subject. The Bill didn't even mention breastfeeding when put out to consultation - though there was a spin put on it by politicians that has led to the confusion. I will be returning to this topic shortly with reference to existing laws on harassment and sex discrimination mean the right to breastfeed is already protected.

Laws are not the whole of the story, however. The disapproval mothers sometimes encounter in the UK is due to cultural reasons and events such as the picnics are a way to change cultural perceptions.

Another way is through poster campaigns and exhibitions such as that recently promoted by Breast Buddies in Leeds. Their pictures showed mothers breastfeeding around the city. The poster below, of Claire and Marcus, was voted favourite by readers of a regional newspaper, The Yorkshire Evening Post.

This does capture the convenience of feeding a child while out shopping, without having the inconvenience and expense of mixing up formula or using ready-to-feed (more expensive still)*.

You can see the rest of the posters on the Breast Buddies website at:

*Remember powdered formula is not sterile and the Department of Health and World Health Organisation advice is that it should be mixed up with water above 70 deg. C to kill any harmful bacteria, which can be done by taking a flask of hot water when travelling. Be sure to let the reconstituted formula cool before using, but use within an hour. Alternatively, ready-to-feed formula, which is sterile, can be used. See:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nestlé driving down standards in South Africa and the world

As you are likely to have seen from our May press release, after three attempts we finally received the South African Advertising Standards Authority ruling from Nestlé regarding its shelf talkers. Nestlé promoted its Nan infant formula with signs on the shelves highlighting the 'new' version of the product, which has logos on the labels (which were pictured) saying it 'protects'. In reality infants fed on the formula are more likely to become sick than breastfed children and, in conditions of poverty often encountered in South Africa, to die.

We ask Nestlé to substantiate its claim that the shelf talkers had been cleared as a search did not bring it up on the ASA website and neither Nestlé nor the ASA provided it to us when asked.

The ruling can be downloaded from our website and I have now had time to produce an analysis of Nestlé's response, which can be read at:

While the ruling does indeed reject the complaint about the shelf talkers, it contradicts the position of the South African Department of Health, which says it is usually consulted on such issues and was not in this case.

You can read full details on the website, but one aspect that I want to highlight here is the fact that the complaint about Nestlé's promotion was brought by the Infant Feeding Association.

The Infant Feeding Association was formed at the end of 2003, when the South African government was last considering regulations for the marketing of baby foods. It argued that: "The legislation would infringe on the manufacturers' right to freedom of speech and mothers' rights to information". See:

The aim of the legislation and the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly from which it derives actually aims to protect breastfeeding and to ensure that formula is used safely when necessary. The aim is not to stop mothers receiving information, but stop misinformation.

Nestlé argued that its shelf talkers were providing information and the ASA agreed: "The material does not fall within any of the restrictions mentioned in Clause 1.3.2, nor does it contain anything which might be considered to be "sales phraseology". It simply shows pictures of the "OLD" and "NEW" packaging in a factual and informative manner. It isn't likely to induce sales to consumers, but is intended to inform existing customers that the product is now available in new packaging."

However, we support the Department of Health view that shelf talkers should not be permitted.

The shelf talkers are intended to draw attention to the formula. If Nestlé's concern was simply to make it clear the new formula was equivalent to the old, this could have been done on the label. The strategy was to suggest a 'new' formula, offering to 'protect' (a claim highlighted on the labels shown on the shelf talker), was on the market.

Nestlé stressed in a letter to Baby Milk Action that the complaint was brought by a competitor, not the Department of Health. But it is, in fact, more serious than that. The complaint was brought by the industry body as a whole.

The ruling states: "The complainant submitted, in essence, that the campaign goes beyond informing consumers of a change in packaging by drawing much attention to the brand. This contravenes both the World Health Organisation (WHO) Code and the Code of Advertising Practice, which [sic] practices used to induce sales directly to the consumer at retail level" [I presume it should read 'prohibits practices']

It is significant that both the baby food industry and the Department of Health are critical of Nestlé's promotion.

While we can perhaps take some comfort that some in the Infant Feeding Association are attempting to maintain standards, it is disappointing that the self-regulatory Advertising Standards Authority found for Nestlé as this threatens to drive down standards. If the industry body cannot stop Nestlé from what it views as a violation of the Code, then the worry is they will feel compelled to follow Nestlé's poor example. That is exactly what happened in the US when Nestlé broke a voluntary advertising ban.

The last global monitoring report revealed that the NUMICO companies (Nutricia, Milupa and Cow&Gate) - now owned by Danone - are becoming worse in their violations as they try to compete with Nestlé in Asia.

Nestlé, the largest company in the market, is the cruz of the problem. When we are able to stop Nestlé from driving down standards it can bring substantial benefits.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

UK breastfeeding picnics - 21 July

There are to be picnics held around the UK next week to support the right to breastfeed in public.

You can find out full details on Morgan Gallagher's blog at:

Events will take place in Parliament Square in London and in:

  • Birmingham
  • Bournemouth
  • Camberely
  • Colchester
  • Durham
  • Hinckley
  • Oxford

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Heinz/Farley's new formula launch shows how it betrays mothers

Not so long ago Heinz/Farley's was trying to gain free publicity for its formula by claiming it was the cheapest on the market.

It distributed fliers such as the one shown below to health workers encouraging them to promote it as the 'best formula' at the 'best price', highlighting that it could be afforded using vouchers in the welfare food scheme.
They also press released the claim of being the cheapest formula, gaining coverage in the national media. We complained about this back-door advertising strategy to the UK Advertising Standards Authority, but received a typically dismissive response from the ASA.

As many mothers in the UK are now experiencing, Farley's 'best formula, best price' strategy was a little misleading. It has launched a new formula called 'Nurture' (in itself and idealizing claim) with new ingredients. Perhaps Heinz would argue that its old formula was the best even without these ingredients, but it shows how dishonest such promotion is. 'Best formula' is meaningless, when the formula is not only a poor second to breastmilk (which contains many ingredients that are as yet unidentified or impossible to synthesize to add to formula), but also to the formula which the marketing department is waiting to launch onto the market. Heinz may argue that its new formula is the 'best formula'. All companies claim the same thing, making it impossible to judge from their information which is really the best. See:

Heinz/Farley's hopes to pick up customers (from other formula companies and from breastfeeding) by giving the impression that 'best' means the same as 'good'. It doesn't. It means as good as it can be given the current level of understanding of why breastfed infants are healthier than formula fed ones, the current state of processing technology and the current interest of making claims about ingredients. Infants fed on it will be sicker in the short and long term. That is not 'good'. That is not 'best'. It may be the only alternative for some babies who cannot be breastfed and do not have access to donated milk. It is a better option than other milks which are even more harmful. Formula is an important and necessary nutritional medicine, but it is marketed in a way that suggests it is a lifestyle choice and that the 'best formula' is not really any different from breastmilk, and may be even better.

New ingredients are not even added because they are shown to provide benefits to infants. Indepedent reviews of evidence for past additions such as LCPs and prebiotics has shown no benefits, despite company claims. This is why it is not a legal requirement to add them to formula. Our position is that anything that is important to reduce the risk to formula-fed infants should be added to all formula. The authorities who examine the research for ingredients in the European Union and elsewhere have found the case for adding these ingredients is not supported. As an investment company said regarding Martek, which makes most of the LCPs used in formula, see:

---Hambrecht and Quist on Formulaid (an LCP cocktail)
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.'
---quote ends

The Heinz/Farley's strategy shows clearly how this strategy works. Its new formula is appreciably more expensive than the old, £3.00 per tin more expensive, some mothers are complaining. That is what the marketing department thinks its new claims are worth.

Which brings us to the second part of the betrayal. Having marketed its formula as the cheapest, Heinz/Farley's has removed it from the market. Mothers who budgeted to use this formula, perhaps making decisions on whether to breastfeed and how and when to return to work, suddenly find their plans have to be re-written, which may not be possible.

There are many other aspects of this product launch to be explored, from the validity, or otherwise, of the claims, the marketing campaign, the labelling and the targeting of health workers.

We will continue to monitor and to campaign for more effective regulation to protect breastfeeding and to protect babies fed on formula. As ever, your support for this, both practical and financial, is essential.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Books including information on Nestlé available from Baby Milk Action

Someone posted a comment on an earlier blog entry asking if there are any books about Nestlé.

We have a variety in our on-line Virtual Shop that deal with Nestlé specifically or in the broader context of the campaign.

BTR 07

Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2007 profiles Nestlé and the other main formula companies with examples of how they have been found to be pushing formula in breach of World Health Assembly marketing requirements. See:

Old and New

Fighting and old battle in a new world is a publication from 2005 tracing the history of the campaign and is written by someone who was there at the formation of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), Annelies Allain. She went on to set up the International Code Documentation Centre, which coordinates IBFAN's global monitoring projects. It is available at:

Politics of Breastfeeding

The Politics of Breastfeeding is written by Gabrielle Palmer, who has also been involved in the campaign since the first boycott and was involved with Baby Milk Action at the beginning. This book has opened the eyes of many people and motivated them to take action. It is fully updated and orders are being taken. See:

Case Studies

Using international tools to stop corporate malpractice - does it work? is a 2004 publication that I edited. It includes cases studies from 5 countries where experts commissioned by IBFAN examined the history of infant feeding and efforts to stop baby food companies pushing formula and undermining breastfeeding. In some countries these efforts worked, in others not. In every case the industry was trying to undermine strong regulations. You can download the report, or purchase a printed copy at:

GORF cover

Global Obligations for the Right to Food, edited by Professor George Kent, uses existing human rights commitments to argue that governments have a collective responsibility to deliver the right to food. I have contributed a chapter on holding corporations accountable, which takes Nestlé as its main cases study, not only with regard to baby food marketing, but other harmful aspects of its business, such as exploitation of water resources.

Each chapter makes recommendations for action by governments and others. I'm exploring some of the wider implications on my personal global justice blog.

The book is available to order at:

For other publications on infant feeding see:

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Will the ASA do anything about Cow & Gate's bottle feeding advertisement?

Here are a couple of screen shots of the Cow & Gate advertisement I wrote about yesterday. We have reported this to the UK Advertising Standards Authority.

As you can see it is promoting bottle feeding with the suggestion that this provides key nutrients for healthy digestion and strengthened natural defences. The advertisement does not mention that a child fed on formula is more likely to suffer from gastro-enteritis, respiratory infections and other illnesses than a breastfed child.

The small print says that the product 'is not a breast milk substitute'. But what is a feeding bottle and teat if not a substitute breast?

The product shown is a follow-on milk. Breastfeeding is recommended not just for 6 months, the age at which companies encourage parents to start using follow-on milk, but beyond this. Follow-on milk replaces that part of the diet best provided by breastmilk and so is a breastmilk substitute covered by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The Code prohibits the advertising of such products.

The advertisement shows a pack shot for the 3rd milk in the Cow & Gate range. The infant formula in the range is branded in the same way, so the advertisement is cross promotional. It also directs people to a website where the full range is advertised. The advertisement is also on the Cow & Gate website.

The UK law is weaker than the International Code and allows the advertising of follow-on milks. However Article 11.3 of the Code calls on companies to abide by its provisions independently of government measures. Danone, which now owns NUMICO (parent of Nutricia, Milupa and Cow & Gate), said earlier this year that it is conducting a 'root and branch review' of marketing activities, following its purchase. On present evidence there is no change to policies or practices.

Without some sign of action in the coming months, particularly in developing countries where NUMICO is also aggressive, Danone may well find itself the target of a consumer campaign.

The Guidance Notes to the UK law have something to say about follow-on formla advertising. Some extracts:

47... Read together, the aims of these regulations are to ensure that consumers recognise that advertisements for follow-on formula relate exclusively to products for older babies and not infant formula. Such advertisements should not promote, either directly or indirectly, infant formula, or formula milks/bottle-feeding in general. (regulations 18, 19 and 22).

48. In order to achieve compliance, companies will therefore need to ensure that formula advertising does not:
• promote a range of formula products by making the brand the focus of the advert, rather than specific products (e.g. where specific products are mentioned only in a footnote or in a picture of a tin of formula within the advertisement)...
• focus primarily on the promotion of ingredients, or the effect of ingredients, which are common to both follow-on formula and infant formula...

There are other provisions requiring the labelling and branding of infant formula and follow-on formula to be different, which are also being breached.

But will the ASA do anything? Past experience is not good. The ASA cleared an advertisement for Wyeth/SMA formula at the end of last year and we continue to receive reports of it being shown. See:

That case is featured in the report we prepared for the government's review of the effectiveness of the regulations, alongside other practices which we believe break the regulations.

You can find the report on the Baby Feeding Law Group website, which we maintain, along with links to the regulations. See:

Donations to help with our monitoring work, which is currently unfunded and has to be done mainly in staff spare time, are very welcome.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Cow and Gate'slaughing babies advertising

Have you seen Cow & Gate's laughing babies advertisement in the UK?

If so, please let us know what channel and when. We are pursuing this through the Advertising Standards Authority and Trading Standards.

Any aggressive UK marketing can be reported to us at:

This site also explains how to register appropriate complaints with the authorities.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Nestle and other chocolate companies failing to act on plan to end child slavery

A couple of years ago I interviewed Bama Athreya, Director of the International Labour Rights Forum (ILRF) regarding Nestlé and child slavery. The interviewed occurred as Nestlé was refusing to participate in a meeting in the United States regarding its failure to meet commitments to a US Senate plan, called the Harkin-Engel Protocol. At the same time Nestlé was sponsoring a meeting at the UK Labour Party Conference about its commitment to ending child slavery. So in the UK it was trying to look good by buying itself a platform, but in the US was refusing to explain why its actions did not meet its words. See:

Now ILRF has produced a report, analysing what has happened since the Senate plan was introduced in 2001. Its press release is included below. A more detailed briefing is available at:

Rather than engaging with government initiatives, the industry has promoted its own 'standards' and used these to claim great progress. Claims which do not stand up to scrutiny. This once again demonstrates the importance of independent monitoring of internationally-agree standards (as we have with the baby food marketing requirements). In the book Global Obligations for the Right to Food I discuss some of the ways to better hold corporations to account.

---ILRF press release
Cocoa Industry Fails to Deliver on July 1, 2008 Child Labor Commitments
ILRF Releases New Analysis of Industry’s Failure to Eliminate Child Labor

The chocolate industry has failed to provide consumers with a reasonable assurance that the chocolate they buy was made without exploited and trafficked child labor. Major chocolate companies signed what is referred to as the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001, promising to eliminate the worst forms of child labor from their supply chains, after media stories emerged depicting the widespread use of forced child labor and trafficking on West African cocoa farms. After failing to meet their July 1, 2005 commitments, the Protocol was weakened and extended to July 1, 2008. Once again, the industry has missed the deadline.

Bama Athreya, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum, said, “The major chocolate companies are not able to prove the elimination of exploited child labor in their cocoa supply, nor show concrete improvements in West African farmers’ lives. Consumers cannot be assured today that their favorite chocolate candies are made without abusive child labor.”

In a new report issued today, titled “The Cocoa Protocol: Success or Failure,” the International Labor Rights Forum presented the following findings:

  • The original intent of the ‘protocol’ has not been achieved, and consumers today have no more assurance than they did eight years ago that trafficked or exploited child labor was not used in the production of their chocolate;
  • Industry is making false claims regarding certification;
  • Industry may be assigning itself too much credit for activities that may in any case have resulted from bilateral and multilateral government engagement;
  • ‘Verification’ has been rendered irrelevant by the fact that the process supported by industry no longer bears any relation to supply chain monitoring or certification;
  • Industry-supported programs have not been properly evaluated and therefore the actual impacts of such programs are unknown;
  • Industry has not adequately defined what it considers remediation;
  • Reports from West Africa point to the continued use of the worst forms of child labor as well as trafficking of children.

The report presents the following recommendations*:

  • Companies should establish traceability within their own supply chain to the farm or cooperative level;
  • Companies should work through existing initiatives (for example, Fair Trade, Utz Certified and Rainforest Alliance) to develop stronger methodologies for labor standards monitoring and link these systems directly to the government processes with an incentive/sanction system;
  • Companies should ensure that their own operations and their supply chains adhere to internationally established codes of practice, including the ILO Tripartite Declaration for Multinational Enterprises and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Corporations;
  • The US Government should cease to protect the interests of chocolate companies and instead invest in funding multilateral initiatives through the ILO-IPEC program and through funding for the Education for All initiative, and should support revenue transparency in the cocoa sector.

Tim Newman of ILRF’s Campaigns Department stated, “Consumers should reward companies with ethical integrity in their supply chains and continue to demand that world’s largest chocolate companies answer the question of how consumers can be assured their chocolate is not produced using exploited child labor.”

*Note: Many of these recommendations are supported by the “Commitment to Ethical Cocoa Sourcing” document which has been endorsed by 60 chocolate companies and organizations.

The full report can be read online here:

Friday, July 04, 2008

How to reduce the levels of transfats in foods

I wrote yesterday about how Nestlé is sponsoring a forthcoming Govnet Conference on obesity and how the company has argued for voluntary action on unhealthy foods rather than legislation.

I made the opposing argument in the book 'Global Obligations for the Right to Food', which can now be ordered in our on-line Virtual Shop. See:

This book, edited by George Kent, was prepared by a Task Force of the Working Group on Nutrition, Ethics, and Human Rights of the United Nations System Standing Committee on Nutrition. It argues that governments have a collective responsibility to deliver on the right to food if this right is not met at a lower level of responsibility, be it at family, community or nation level.

When it comes to holding some of the world's most powerful corporations to account, particularly with regard to human rights and environmental issues, I argue that binding regulations are needed, rather than voluntary systems.

As you might expect I take the failure of corporations to abide by the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods as a major case study. I do look at other issues, however, and one is of particular relevance given Nestlé's sponsorship of a conference on obesity next week, where company executives will be rubbing shoulders with UK policy makers. It is the case of transfats.

Saturated fats or transfats are used in processed foods and are blamed for contributing to the pandemic of obesity and non-communicable diseases. They are used because they are cheaper and have a longer shelf live than healthier unsaturated fats.

Transfats were widely used in foodstuffs in Denmark until 2003, as in other countries. In 2003 the Danish government enacted legislation requiring manufacturers to reduce content of trans fatty acids in the oils and fats to no more than 2 grams per 100 grams. Manufacturers were allowed to sell food manufactured before the law came into force and were given a 6-month period when transfats content in food products could be up to 5 grams per 100 grams of the product. From December 2003 sanctions of up to 2 years in prison have applied for selling foods with higher-than-permitted levels of trans fats.

Manufacturers appear to have complied with the regulations in Denmark whilst not changing practices elsewhere. In April 2006 Dr. Steen Stender of Gentofte University Hospital in Hellerup, Denmark, wrote to WebMD with details of a survey of fast food he had conducted while traveling (Hitti 2006).

WebMD reported Stender’s stating: “the content of trans fatty acids varied from less than 1 gram in Denmark and Germany, to 10 grams in New York (McDonald's) and 24 grams in Hungary (Kentucky Fried Chicken).” And: “The cooking oil used for French fries in McDonald's outlets in the United States and Peru contained 23% and 24% trans fatty acids, respectively, whereas the oils used for French fries in many European countries contained only about 10% trans fatty acids, with some countries as low as 5% (Spain) and 1% (Denmark).”

While Denmark’s law has prompted changes, elsewhere in Europe a voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility approach is being pursued to implement the World Health Assembly’s Global strategy on diet, physical activity and health adopted in 2004.

The European Union has set up a European Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health to “bring together all relevant players active at European level that are willing to enter into binding and verifiable commitments aimed at halting and reversing current overweight and obesity trends.” Baby Milk Action is participating in this initiative in good faith to try to highlight the important role of breastfeeding and the need to defend it, to encourage voluntary changes from corporations and to highlight the need for monitoring and regulation.

So how is it going. In 2006 the European Commission reported encouraging noises from the companies: “Furthermore they commit to further develop products reduced in fat, saturated fat or salt and to make these products more available.” Wow!

So while Denmark’s regulatory approach has forced compliance and protected the public from health-damaging transfats in foods since 2003, the voluntary approach puts the onus on consumers to select the healthy option, which is likely to be sold at a higher price with claims as to its health benefits.

An advantage of the voluntary approach, of course, is corporations don't mind sending someone along to regular meetings to make encouraging noises. Politicians find it easier to give the appearance of action, while not having to actually take action that corporations don't like. Corporations will be more willing to open their cheque books to sponsor conferences and other initiatives in the future if they haven't been forced to make changes they prefer to make in their own way and in their own time. I guess it is what you could call it a symbiotic relationship.

Let us see what comes from the Govnet Conference. I could hazard a guess it will not be calling for tougher regulations along the lines of Denmark's.

For more in-depth analysis, references and discussion of other issues related to food security, buy Global Obligations for the Right to Food by going to:

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Nestlé sponsors Govnet Conference on obesity

I've written recently about sponsorship and conflicts of interest. An forthcoming example that several people have alerted us to is Nestlé apparently sponsoring a government conference. I say apparently because although the name of the organiser, Govnet, may give the impression it is official, it is not. There are to be government speakers at the event, however, including Sir Liam Donaldson, the government's Chief Medical Officer, and people from the Department of Health. Nestlé's 'Chief Medical Officer' is also a speaker.

The event goes under the title: "Health weight, Healthy lives". See:

Nestlé's profits are at serious risk if regulations are brought in regarding the marketing and composition of processed foods. That's not my opinion, its the opinion of UBS Warburg investment bank. In a report in 2002 the bank estimated that 46% of Nestlé income is from 'less healthy foods'.

Such concerns prompted then Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck Letmathé, to embark on rebranding the company as a 'Fitness, Health and Wellness' company. Part of his strategy has been to advocate voluntary action by companies instead of regulation and to involve the company in as many PR opportunities where it sits alongside those charged with tackling the obesity epidemic as possible.

Hence it is a 'major sponsor' of this event by Govnet.

Last year it sponsored a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference on obesity. See:

Our concerns are not only about Nestlé's efforts to undermine regulations aimed at tackling obesity. Nestlé is attempting to break into the UK formula market at present. We exposed some of its recent tactics in our monitoring report for the Baby Feeding Law Group in May. At these meetings it is not only gaining access to those who are responsible for making decisions on regulation, it is paying the bill.

If health campaigners want to be present to raise concerns about Nestlé, they, by contrast, have to pay just to sit in the audience. Or alternatively they can gather outside with some leaflets and placards. Contact me if you are interested in coming along on Tuesday 8 July at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, Westminster. Registration is from 8:40 to 9:20.

For details of how to get there see:

You can also try to influence the policy makers by completing the government's consultation on commercial promotion to children. See:

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Growth in human donor milk banks in the UK and Brazil

Milk banks came up twice today. That's human donor milk banks, that pasteurise expressed breastmilk, primarily for premature infants, who have a higher chance of survival and lower risk of terrible illnesses such as necrotising enterocilitis.

There is a milk bank network in the UK. It was scaled back when HIV first came on the scene. But is growing again now that there is acceptance that the screening and pasteurisation process is safe. Unfortunately they are poorly supported in official budgets and dedicated staff have to resort to fundraising events. It reminds me of the comment about how different the world would be if it was the armed forces that had to hold a raffle or jumble sale if they needed a new piece of equipment.

The milk bank in Chester has just launched a website to provide information on its work and people can make donations via it. See:

I also received a request for the latest situation with the Brazilian milk bank network. In contrast to the UK, concerns about HIV did not result in the network being scaled back, but increased quality controls and steady growth in the network. The National Breastfeeding Conference I attended in May was combined with the first Amazonian Milk Bank Conference with training for those working in, or wanting to set up, milk banks.

The official Brazilian milk bank site is:

The number of milk banks is given at:

This shows 191 milk banks and 34 additional collection centres (which send milk to a partner milk bank).

There are also some figures on litres collection, number of donors and number of recepients at:

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The impact of advertising on children - UK government asks for views

The UK Government is consulting on advertising and promotion to children. You can easily give your views through an on-line process that just takes a few minutes. Adults and children can participate. See:
DfES page (parents)
DfEs page (children and young people)

The deadline is 13 July.

The Government is under pressure from campaigners to prohibit the advertising of foods to children and has gone some way along this path. Baby Milk Action support the Children's Food Campaign, run by Sustain. See:

Although in the survey there seems to be a focus on television and magazine advertising aimed at children, companies such as Nestlé have found other ways to promote confectionary and cereals (which are often high in salt and sugar) to children.

For example, Nestlé attempts to co-opt teachers into promoting cereal through its 'box tops for education' scheme. If children bring in the tops of Nestlé cereals the school receives some money. Many schools have refused to take part, some writing to all parents explaining why, because of support for the boycott over the company's marketing of baby foods as well as on health grounds. We have a campaign pack if you or your children are targeted in this way. See:

A new initiative from Nestlé targeting children, is its 'Go free' campaign. Again this promotes confectionary and cereals.

Such initiative are not only about boosting sales of these products, they are also aimed at undermining the boycott and trying to improve Nestlé's appalling image. When Nestlé was told by the UK Advertising Standards Authority not to repeat the untrue claim that it markets infant formula 'ethically and responsibly', made in an anti-boycott advertisement, a Public Relations expert suggested that Nestlé should try to store up a 'reservoir of good will' by putting money into initiatives aimed at children. See:

Baby Milk Action is also concerned about the impact of advertising and promotion of formula. In the UK television advertisements suggest that formula protects against infection, for example. Children as much as adults have a right to accurate and independent information on infant feeding. The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly aim to ensure that commercial promotion is stopped and limits companies to providing scientific and factual information to health workers. Following action by a Baby Milk Action supporter (and now director), Julie Dyball, the Department of Education and Skills agreed to introduce the Code and Resolutions as an item in the curriculum, so at least children are aware of its existance (it would be good to hear from children if this is working). See:

We have produced an education pack with resources for teachers on unpacking public relations. The pack, which can be purchased or accessed on line, has exercises using materials produced by companies and campaign organisations to understand the reasons why messages are presented as they are. It is called 'Seeing through the Spin'. See:

So there is a lot that can be done to ensure that children are not subject to inappropriate commercial messages. To give your views on what you would like to see the UK government doing, see:
DfES page (parents)
DfEs page (children and young people)

The deadline is 13 July.

Personally I rather like chocolate and am not against eating it. But as with baby milk, calling for appropriate marketing is not the same as saying a product should not be sold.