Monday, September 29, 2008
What I can now tell you is that Nestlé's lawyers wrote to us last week threatening legal action over the site and demanding that we hand over the domain name to Nestlé by today, 29 September. So I've been a little distracted from writing this blog and other promotion for International Nestlé-Free Week. Which is surely the point of this being dropped on us with a deadline just days before the official launch of the site. Nestlé was using the pretence that the site was "passing off" as being from the company, yet as it stated its purpose clearly and directed people to Nestlé's own site, this is absurd and the launch goes ahead using the domain name:
Of greater concern is why Nestlé demanded the domain name. Perhaps to cost the campaign money in reprinting leaflets and re-doing websites. However, the domain name has only been publicised on this blog to date and the metadata for use in search engine listings makes it clear that it gives concerns about Nestlé practices. So anyone visiting the site will be well aware it is a campaign site. And that is the danger I see. If Nestlé takes over the domain name, we don't know what it would put on the site. Consider the fact that in Switzerland at the moment the media is full of the story of Nestlé hiring someone to pose as a campaigner to gain sensitive and confidential information from those with concerns about Nestlé and you will understand why I am worried about what Nestlé - or its secret agents - might put on the domain.
So we've replied to Nestlé's lawyers by their deadline of today explaining that we are not handing over the domain.
If Nestlé was genuinely concerned people might be confused by the domain name we were using, then that has been addressed with us publicising nestlecritics.org for the launch. If they continue to pursue their claim for the original domain then we will fight it because if anyone has genuine reason to fear the domain might be used to mislead people, then it is campaigners.
For additional information see the entry on the Nestlé Critics website - and bookmark it or subscribe to the RSS feed to keep updated on the wider concerns about Nestlé practices.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
A case in point, is contamination of powdered formula with Enterobacter Sakazakii. A Belgian child was killed by such contamination in Nestlé formula in 2001 - and Nestlé still refuses to warn parents of this risk. See:
According to a new report, the Fronterra/Sanlu milk in China has also tested positive for Enterobacter Sakazakii. See:
Fronterra/Sanlu has been pushing formula in ways that breach international marketing standards, as have European countries, such as Swiss Nestlé and Dutch Nutricia (now owned by Danone). See:
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
ICDC coordinates IBFAN's global monitoring project and points out that Fonterra/Sanlu has promoted its formula in breach of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, by, for example, offering gifts on purchase of infant formula (see the image below).
ICDC also questions the public statement from Fonterra that it called for action to be taken in August 2008, by which the New Zealand company is attempting to distance itself from responsibility for the company in which it holds a 43% share. ICDC states that the first cases were known about in March 2008.
For my take on the coverage of the story see:
Here is ICDC's press release, which can be downloaded as a pdf by clicking:
---ICDC press statement 20 September 2008
The Sanlu fiasco: risks of formula feeding
The whole world recoiled in horror at the recent Sanlu milk scandal in China: over 6,000 babies ill, including more than 150 in critical condition, and four deaths. News that melamine, a toxic chemical was deliberately added to local brands of baby milk to falsify protein levels have compelled Chinese parents to seek imported brands.
Responding to this, well-known foreign brands have reportedly requisitioned more stocks from abroad to meet the surge in demand. What people are failing to see is that artificial feeding itself is a risk to infant health. Records compiled by IBFAN-ICDC show that foreign brands also are susceptible to contamination.
Serious questions about the safety of such products have been raised time and again in many countries, not just in China. The World Health Assembly has in recent years adopted several resolutions regarding the dangers of intrinsic contamination of powdered infant formula but these red flags have been swept under the carpet or hushed up by companies so as not to affect sales and profits. Now they are riding high on the anxiety of Chinese parents.
In the wake of the Sanlu tragedy, the government is looking for culprits. Although it is imperative for those guilty to be publicly charged, it is even more important for China and the rest of the world, to take serious stock of the inherent dangers of bottle feeding and work towards having more mothers opt for breastfeeding instead. Apart from giving consumers up-to-date and consistent information about infant and young child feeding, including the risks of formula feeding, vigorous steps must be taken to ensure that mothers can make decisions free of commercial influence.
China has had national regulations which implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes since 1995 but the lack of enforcement means that companies have been able to treat the regulations with impunity and behave as if no law exists.
[ALL FOLLOWING IMAGES ARE SUPPLIED BY ICDC AND CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION FROM ICDC - CONTACT DETAILS BELOW]
Sanlu is 43% owned by the New Zealand Fonterra company which claims it has warned Sanlu since August 2008 about suspected contamination. Yet the first complaints over sick babies came in March 2008.
A bus on one of the busiest routes in Beijing serves as a mobile ad for Sanlu “the best selling infant formula for 12 years”.
Such advertising is forbidden by the International Code.
Promotion in a China store: Buy one bag of Sanlu infant formula and receive a toy. Buy two bags and get a feeding bottle.
Such gifts are a violation of the International Code.
The pictures show how Sanlu, imitating foreign brands, aggressively promotes its products to Chinese mothers and turns them away from the age-old tradition of breastfeeding.
Breastmilk is the optimal food for babies from birth up to the age of two years. It has the correct amount of nutrients, it is safe and hygenic, does not require sterilisation or preparation. It is available for free but it is not being promoted. Instead, aggressive marketing of cow’s milk formula has made mothers oblivious to all the benefits of breastfeeding.
The Chinese officialdom has stepped in to address quality of milk. That they must do but they must also pour in resources for activities which promote, protect and support breastfeeding.
P.O. Box 19, 10700 Penang, Malaysia
Fax: +60-4-890 7291 • Email: ibfanpg(AT)tm.net.my
To see the full Recall List of contaminated baby milks, click the link:
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
One of the things that struck me as odd in some of the coverage is that aspersions are being cast on Chinese goods as a whole. Nestlé recalled formula after a child died in Belgium, but the headlines weren't criticising Swiss goods (and Nestlé didn't recall the formula everywhere, because the order from the European Food Standards Agency didn't extend to Switzerland).
The contamination in that case was Enterobacter Sakazakii. Powdered formula is not sterile and contamination is worryingly common, though deaths are fortunately rare and the steps to reduce risks are straightforward. Unfortunately Nestlé and other formula companies continue to refuse to provide this information to parents on labels, instead boasting (in Nestlé's case) that its formula 'protects'. See:
The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) - we are the UK member - tracks product recalls as a service of its contaminants working group. See:
For example, the Austrian Agency for Health & Food Safety tested products on 11 July 07 and found the following contaminated with Enterobacter Sakazakii:
- HIPP Hypoallergene Anfangsnahrung HA1 (Starter Formula HA1)
- Milupa Pre Aptamil HA
- Wyeth Babylove Dauermilch
It is the nature of mass produced food products that manufacturing errors will occur. Baby Milk Action and our partners in the Baby Feeding Law Group have been calling for the UK government to have a better system for monitoring cases of contamination and receiving reports of concerns. IBFAN works for this globally.
With present technology at least, it is the nature of powdered formula that it is not sterile and may be contaminated with harmful pathogens such as Enterobacter Sakazakii and Salmonella.
This is the double risk of formula over breastfeeding. Formula is not only more likely to introduce infections to vulnerable infants, it denies them the protective factors of breastmilk. While it is an essential product and saves lives in certain circumstances, these risks should be appreciated.
This Danone television advertisement for Cow & Gate formula which the UK Advertising Standards Authority is currently considering not only hides these risks, but misleads mothers into believing the formula provides protection.
While the media will often seize on reports of chemical residues being found in breastmilk, sensationalist reports that put some mothers off breastfeeding, miss the fact that more significant passing of chemicals from mother to baby happens in the womb and breastfeeding - with breastmilk from the same 'contaminated' mother - is the most effective way to reduce that chemical load. IBFAN's working group on residues in breastmilk has additional information. See:
Monday, September 15, 2008
So far, 1,253 babies have become ill from tainted baby formula manufactured by the Sanlu Group, and 340 of them are in the hospital, with 53 of them in serious condition, Health Ministry spokesman Ma Xiaowei said in a news conference. He acknowledged that two infants died in Gansu Province, a poor, dusty region in the nation’s arid northwest.
The contamination is believed to be melamine and it is suggested that some dairy farmers have added this to milk so it gives a higher protein reading in quality tests, but it is harmful.
Obviously the formula needs to be tracked and recalled as quickly as possible, the affected infants cared for and compensation provided and better controls put in place.
But there are aspects of the reporting of this story that strike me as both odd and symptomatic of how much of the media views developing countries and infant feeding.
Firstly, it is undeniably a tragedy that so many infants have become sick and two have died. The deaths are due to the formula not coming up to quality standards. But many, many more babies die every year and many, many more become sick because formula does not come up to the standard of breastmilk. In 2006/2007 we were campaigning in support of our partners in the Philippines where the World Health Organisation says that 60,000 infants die every year due to inappropriate feeding and was calling for stronger controls on the marketing of formula. Interesting the media in this story was an uphill struggle. It took petitions, demonstrations and the involvement of some campaigning journalists to bring this tragedy to a wider audience. See:
Secondly, this story provides the media with an opportunity to attack 'inferior' Chinese industry. The Boston Herald story is headlined: "Tainted formula again raises concerns about Chinese products".
When a child died in Belgium after being fed with Nestlé formula contaminated with Enterobacter Sakazakii there was fairly widespread media coverage - this was a western baby after all - but I don't remember any headlines about concern over Swiss products. Or even Nestlé products specifically - and hardly a year goes by when it does not recall formula somewhere in the world due to quality problems. Earlier this year, for example, its formula was recalled in South Africa. See:
In South Africa Nestlé promotes its formula as providing 'protection' to babies - despite the Department of Health saying such claims breach labelling laws. See:
It seems to me there is a sub-text in the western media at least, running down producers from other countries in favour of western companies.
Yet, read beyond the headline in the Boston Herald and you find that the Chinese company that made the formula is owned 43% by Fonterra, a New Zealand company. It was the discovery of the problem in New Zealand that led to the alert in China.
Consider a little further why there is a growth in formula use in China. It is undergoing rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, but that does not have to mean the fall in breastfeeding rates that is being experienced. Part of the cultural change is prompted by western companies. For example, Nutricia, now owned by Danone, promoted its 'Kissing my Baby' formula in China in 2004 with this gift CD with children's music, exposed by our partners in the International Code Documentation Centre.
We joined the campaign, calling on supporters to send message to the Chief Executive. See:
In 2005 we campaigned against a strategy launched by Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, Nestlé Chairman and then CEO. He targeted pregnant and lactating women with 'nutrition corners' in supermarkets. These had Nestlé formula for young children and suggested that if mothers wanted to breastfeed they needed to buy expensive supplements. See:
Inspectors are now reportedly spreading across China to check all formula manufacturers. Let us hope the manufacturers act in response. When the inspectors found excess iodine in Nestlé Neslac formula in 2005, it at first refused to recall the formula. Bad publicity and a consumer boycott caused it to change its mind. The China Daily reported: "Nestle was caught remarkably flat-footed for a multinational firm of its global standing. Many believe it reacted with the speed and alacrity of a sailor drunk on shore leave."
It was to try to recover market share that Mr. Brabeck set up the 'Nutrition Corners' in supermarkets.
In the Belgian case, Nestlé recalled the formula in the European Union following an order from the European Food Standards Agency, but as Switzerland was not covered, it did not recall formula from the same batch there. Nestlé is still refusing to put warnings on its labels that could prevent a repeat of the Belgian case and reduce other illness that may be due to similar contamination. Powdered formula is not sterile, but parents are not warned of this or the simple steps to reduce the risks. See:
So yes, there is good reason to be concerned about the deaths and illness in China and the failing of the New Zealand/Chinese company. We are certainly in favour of more effective regulatory systems.
But it is important not to be taken in by the anti-Chinese headlines. Many, many more children are suffering due to the way transnationals push their products in ways that undermine breastfeeding, companies that are slow to act when their products are even further compromised with contaminants or missing ingredients.
Friday, September 12, 2008
But the marketing people are ever imaginative. Having removed its 'closer to breastmilk' slogan, Wyeth has changed its SMA logo to incorporate a stylized breastfeeding woman as the M.
Aptamil had the slogan: 'The closest to breastmilk'. The company has now been taken over by Danone and is being a little more imaginative in its approach to bending the law. An advertisement targeting health workers, reveals the strategy. These advertisements now have to carry a more prominent 'Breastfeeding is best for babies' message. But what is the bigger Danone headline: "Why you can count on Aptamil First".
Not first, in terms of before breastmilk, they didn't mean that at all. Aptamil First is the name of the formula, so it is all completely innocent.
Although the text of the advertisement and the label of the formula do then include terms that are not permitted by the UK law, such as 'prebiotics' and 'immunofortis' idealizing claims. The labels has an idealizing image of a bear, that should not be permitted. The labels do not warn that powdered formula is not sterile and the simple steps required to reduce the risks. And so on.
So still a long way to go to persuade the enforcement authorities to act and the government review panel to strengthen the law.
You can help by making a donation to our UK project at:
Or through the Latch.On website. Many thanks for the donations so far there, we have nearly half way to reaching the target that will enable us to publish and publicise a report containing the evidence posted to this blog over the past few days, and more. See:
Thursday, September 11, 2008
The report we are seeking funds to publish, shows that the updated law is little better. Yesterday I presented some of the evidence, concerning the promotional campaign launched by Heinz for its Nurture formula. See:
An indication of how contemptuous the baby food companies are of the law is that Wyeth/SMA is INCREASING the amount it spends on promoting formula. In addition to its current £ 3 million advertising campaign, it has been seeking a marketing firm for targeting mothers directly. This was reported in Campaign magazine at the end of May. See:
Wyeth is already pretty expert at targeting mothers with its SMA formula brand. In a recent magazine promotion, to be highlighted in our report if we can publish it, Wyeth offered mothers a toweling 'hoody' if they signed up to be bombarded with information from the company.
Such gifts are prohibited by the World Health Assembly marketing requirements. Events the weak UK law prohibits gifts with the brand names of infant formula, which is what SMA is. The evidence has been sent to Trading Standards, so we will follow up on whether any action is taken.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Heinz is neither committed to low prices, nor to telling the truth about its formula or respecting the law. If you believed the advertising campaign you would think formula feeding protects babies. That's the message of a television advertisement:
It's in the new slogan for the formula too:
"New Nurture helps nourish, protect and develop you baby."
the voice over to the television advertisment states: "As it grows, a baby needs a special combination of nutrients to sustain the incredible growth in its brain, body and immune system. To provide for those three essential aspects of growth Heinz created new Nurture an advanced complete follow-on formula to help nourish, protect and develop your baby."
Heinz plays very strongly on the idea that infants fed on the formula will be protected. But, formula does not provide what is essential as infants fed on formula are more likely to suffer from short and long-term illness. They are more likely to be hospitalised with gastroentiritis. They are also at risk from possible intrinsic contamination as Heinz has not given the necessary information on reducing this risk. Powdered formula is not sterile, but no doubt the marketing people thought that telling parents this and how to reduce the risks might tarnish the idea that the formula 'protects'. See:
In advertising health workers, Heinz makes many other claims for the benefits of the formula, including implying it is an intervention for use when babies are constipated.
On the labels Heinz adds claims about ingredients, including the illegal claim about 'prebiotics'. Heinz has already been warned before that this is not on the permitted list, but will the authorities do anything to hold the company to account?
We have reported the television advertisement to the Advertising Standards Authority. Please let us know when and where you see the advertisement. You can also report it yourself. Find out details at:
But from our past experience of the ASA and the regulatory framework in general, little is likely to be done. Why? Because the label of the formula as shown in the screen shot of the advertisement is orange. The UK framework is really that useless.
This the range of formulas, as promoted on the website given in the television advertisement, which parents are expected to visit for further information:
The orange label is for a follow-on formula. Other labels are for infant formula. Infant formula cannot be advertised, but follow-on formula can. So show an orange label and slip through this gaping hole in the law.
It doesn't matter that parents won't make the connection. Indeed, from past experience, the enforcement officers may not even be able to tell what formula is being advertised, but if Heinz tells them it is follow-on formula, then they say they can do nothing. That was exactly what happened when we reported a past Heinz/Farley's advertisement, which appeared on the Discovery Health channel.
After our complaint was rejected we requested information from Ofcom (the responsible for television advertising) using the Freedom of Information Action. This is what we found in the correspondence between officials:
Hillingdon Environmental Health (the home authority for Heinz) to Ofcom saying:
“I was unable to work out the precise product pictured in the video footage.”
Ofcom’s investigator agreed:
“I don’t know what product appears in the credits as no information is given on the pack shot. Discovery have told us that the product was follow-on formula.”
We have sent this information to the review panel that is looking at the effectiveness of the Regulations. We have been calling for years that all formula advertising be advertised, in line with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981.
One of the things brought into the Guidance Notes issued this year that accompany the Regulations was an attempt to stop the permitted promotion of follow-on formula being used to promote infant formula. This calls for infant formula and follow-on formula to be separated in retail outlets and for follow-on formula promotion to be kept separate from infant formula. This is not happening in pracice. Heinz has produced shelf talkers, ostensibly for follow-on formula, which are being displayed like in this example from Boots:
The formulas on the left are infant formula. So no separation of formula types and follow-on promotion with the formula.
Is anything likely to be done?
The signs are not good as the Trading Standards Home Authority responded to point-of-sale promotion for Wyeth/SMA formula (shown in our May 2008 monitoring report) by stating:
"It may not comply with good practice in the guidance notes, but it does not infringe the 2007 Regulations. Therefore enforcement action cannot be taken."
The Baby Feeding Law Group was assured by the government that the Guidance Notes would be enforced. Now it seems they are beeing taken as 'good practice' and no action will be taken.
This is the situation we face in the UK and it is only by exposing it that we can hope of making progress in closing the loopholes. The above case, the recent strategies and the action (or lack of it) by authorities are something we wish to publish in a monitoring report, but for this we need funding. At present we have no funding for UK work. Indeed, this blog fell silent these past few days because I was working on putting the report together to send to the review panel, alongside a second job and other Baby Milk Action work (which is funded). In a very real sense, funding means staff hours, better publications and a more effective campaign. I don't mind giving time voluntarily - I have always done so and we rely on volunteer supporters to help with monitoring. But there are only so many hours in the day. If we have funding, they can be put to this work. Similar strategies are used around the world, so what we expose in the UK and the monitoring systems we have and are developing, is useful globally.
Donations to the BFLG monitoring project can be made through our on-line Virtual Shop at:
Alternatively, particularly if in the US, donations can be made via the Latch.On website at:
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
We sent the last report to the Trading Standards offices responsible for enforcing the regulations on each company. As I wrote yesterday, the home authority for Nestlé has told it it needs authorisation from the Department of Health for a video it is distributing, which is a small sign of progress. See:
On the whole, however, as the monitoring shows, companies are getting away with promoting formula as if it was confectionery or shampoo, rather than a nutritional medicine. As long as they stick the words 'follow-on' somewhere in the advertisement they escape through loopholes in the law. They can also target mothers directly with apparent immunity. This is because the Government ignored the recommendations from health advocates and its own expert advisers when revising the law. The review panel provides another chance for the law to be brought at least a little closer towards the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods which the companies should be abiding by independently of government measures.
The report we prepared for the Baby Feeding Law Group, a coalition of UK health worker and mother support groups, sets out what the government needed to do and the benefits this would have brought to infant health and the economy. See:
How serious are the consequencies of the Government failing to act on our recommendations and those of its own advisers, is demonstrated by a simple fact: the introduction of the law is leading to MORE promotion not less. The evidence comes not only from our monitoring, but from the fact that Wyeth, producer of SMA formula, is not only maintaining its £ 3 million advertising budget, but seeking a new deal for direct marketing its formula to mothers.
Marketing Magazine reports (30 May 2008):
LONDON - SMA Nutrition, the baby milk formula brand, is on the hunt for an agency to handle its direct marketing account.
The Wyeth-owned breast milk supplement has approached a number of undisclosed agencies with a view to holding chemistry meetings later this week. The pitch is being overseen by the AAR.
According to an SMA spokeswoman, the company plans to shortlist 20 agencies for the brief, with a result expected in July.
Publicis, which secured the £3 million SMA advertising account in April last year, is not affected by the review.
The successful agency will promote the formula in the wake of impending plans to implement a European directive limiting the approved health claims formula brands can make and preventing them advertising directly to parents.---extract ends
If only it were true that the UK implementation of the Directive prevented them advertising directly to parents. This is what the World Health Assembly measures require, as they give health workers responsibility for advising parents and providing objective, independent information.
The UK could have prohibited the advertising of follow-on formula (so closing the loophole mentioned above) if it had wished to do so. Other European countries have done so. But it followed the industry plea to do the minimum possible so advertising continues and direct targeting of pregnant women is set to increase. Indeed, Wyeth is already stepping up activity in this area, with leaflets such as this one, found in a health centre, which encourages mothers to contact Wyeth for information on infant care and promotes the SMA formula brand name.
Monday, September 01, 2008
We raised at the time the fact that under UK law such items should only be produced and distributed with the written authority of the Secretary of State for Health. We questioned whether this had been obtained. We raised this again in our May 2008 UK monitoring report when reporting on efforts by Chris Sidgwick, Dr. Miriam Stoppard (television health expert) and Zelda Wilson (Nestlé Nutritionist) to further target UK health workers on behalf of Nestlé.
This prompted a response from the home authority for Nestlé which we hope to include in the next monitoring report if we are able to raise funds for its production. Our UK work is unfunded and we need donations for this. You can donate by going to:
If you prefer (if you are in the US, for example) you also have the option of making a donation through the LatchOn website at:
Here is an update on the monitoring project I've posted to the LatchOn site:
We are hoping to produce a new monitoring report with these funds updating developments since one produced in May 2008. With the money from this project we would be able to print the new report.
There is little action from the enforcement authorities, something we need to highlight to the government's review panel. One piece of good news is that action has been taken over Nestlé distributing a video - ostensibly about breastfeeding - to health workers. The enforcement authority responded to the May report saying: "The video was sent to the Department of Health in 2005, but you are correct in stating that formal approval was never given. I have now written to the company stating that they need to obtain approval from the DOH."
So it is good that the authority backs our view that approval is needed, but a concern that three years after launching a video without that approval, Nestlé is simply being asked to try again. With the help of this project we may be able to improve the situation so when companies break the law, they are actually compelled to stop doing so.