Indicator 3 of a WBTi assessment is about implementation and monitoring of the World Health Assembly International Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. UK Regulations only partly incorporate the International Code yet the regulations still get broken, as the WBTi UK report of 2016 illustrates with examples of idealising text and images on packaging, and price reductions.
Last month, Save the Children published a report called Don’t Push It: Why the formula milk industry must clean up its act. It emphasises that breastfeeding saves lives but that millions of children are at risk form the rapid growth in the infant formula market. The report looks at the activities of six multinational companies which have more than 50% of the market between them – Abbott, Kraft Heinz, Friesland Campina, Danone, Nestlé and RB. Responses from the companies are on the charity’s website, along with its replies to them.
The market has grown very rapidly, increasing five-fold in two decades, and it is estimated will be worth more than $70 billion by 2019. The companies spend far more promoting their products than is spent by public health budgets in supporting breastfeeding. Examples of recent company marketing in the UK that contravene the International Code, and in some cases break the law as well, are described in the monitoring report, Look What They’re Doing in the UK – 2017 .
Save the Children also carried out an investigation jointly with The Guardian in deprived areas of the Philippines and found contraventions of the Code such as gifts to health professionals, and that the companies had a constant presence in hospitals, resulting in mothers being exposed to formula promotion. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/27/formula-milk-companies-target-poor-mothers-breastfeeding
In its report, Save the Children calls on the companies to commit publicly to upholding the Internation Code to protect children’s health as well as governments incorporating the Code fully into legislation. It is also calling on investors to hold companies to account to increase their compliance, stating “Business models that undermine the health and wealth of future generations pose a long-term financial threat to investors.”
With the widespread use of IT in business, why is it that retailers do not have systems that prevent illegal marketing such as price reductions? Instead, monitoring in the UK relies on volunteers. If you do find any reductions and inform the store manager, you might also like to ask why their electronic stock control system doesn’t include information to prevent such violations.
I was recently on holiday in Panama and went into a couple of supermarkets, where I noticed that baby foods were labelled as suitable from 6 months. On the basis of this small sample, I then wondered whether Panama has a strong law. Indeed, the International Code is fully integrated in national law although, as the committee on the rights of the Child reported in January 2018 , there is no monitoring or sanctioning mechanism.
Banner photo from WBTi UK 2016 Report
Patricia Wise is an NCT breastfeeding counsellor and a member of the WBTi Steering Group.