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Responses to the violations on the Campaign for Ethical Marketing
action sheet April 2008

This page was last updated on 16 April 2008.

Please keep writing to the companies concerned (background information, contact details and suggested letters are given on the action sheet). Please forward any responses you receive to us, even if they are the same as the ones given here.

Response are awaited to:

Help South Africa to stop Nestlé and others pushing formula


We exposed Nestlé promotional shelf talkers for its formula, which the Department of Health said it viewed as a breach of the advertising code: "Appendix G 1.3.2 There must be no point-of-sale advertising...” . We also exposed Nestlé formula labels (highlighted on the shelf talkers). The Department of Health said:

"The Department of Health are extremely concerned about all the health claims that Nestle make on the new NAN 1, 2 and 3 tins. The health claims are a contravention of the current South African Regulations. A meeting was held with representatives of Nestle and Department of Health and it seems they were not aware that they are transgressing the Regulations. However, they are reluctant to change the labels."

"The SA Regulations 2 (9) (b) & (c) of the Regulations Governing the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs, published under Government Notice No. R. 2034 of 29 October 1993 strictly prohibits health/curative/restorative/prophylactic/medicinal claims.

"Therefore, statements such as "optimal physical and mental development", "activate your baby's immune defences" and "strengthen your baby's natural defences" as indicated on the labels are just some examples of prohibited statements on NAN 1 and 2".

We asked people to send messages of solidarity to the South African Government as it sought to bring in stronger regulations. Baby Milk Action wrote to Nestlé asking it to abide by the Code and Resolutions and to provide a ruling from the South African Advertising Standards Authority, which it claimed had cleared its shelf talkers. Nestlé responded as follows in a letter dated 28 March 2008, without sending the ruling :

Comments from Baby Milk Action appear [****like this****].



Dear Mr. Brady,

Thank you for your letter dated March 13th, raising questions about our infant formula marketing in South Africa.

[***Baby Milk Action comment: discussion of product recall also raised in the letter ommitted***]

Nan 1 and Nan 2 shelf-talkers

The WHO Code has a twofold aim, as stated in Article 1: "The aim of this Code is to contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants, by the protection and promotion of breast-feeding, and by ensuring the proper use of breast-milk substitutes, when these are necessary, on the basis of adequate information and through appropriate marketing and distribution".

Those shelf-talkers were a temporary measure to inform consumers of a change in labeling and composition of NAN products, so that mothers who were already feeding their children NAN 1 or NAN 2 would know that they could continue with the new formulation with no problem. They thus were aimed at providing adequate information to consumers caused by the change in formulation and labeling, fulfilling the Aim of the WHO Code, as contained in Article 1. [***Baby Milk Action comment: This misuses the Code, which sets out in subsequent articles what 'appropriate marketing and distribution' means - specifically prohibiting point-of-sale promotion. Article 4 is devoted to how 'information' may be provided - Nestlé's shelf talkers do not comply with this***]

Furthermore, the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa clarified on January 23rd, 2008 to the Infant Feeding Association of South Africa that these shelf-talkers were not of a promotional nature and that their display at point of sales did not amount ot advertising, as it was strictly factual and informative [***Baby Milk Action comment: we specifically asked Nestlé for a copy of this alleged ruling in our letter as it had been cited in the media, but Nestlé did not send it. It could not be found on the ASA website and the ASA did not provide it when contacted. After two further letters, Nestlé did provide a copy, but the findings contradict the position of the Department of Health, which, contrary to what is apparently normal practice, was not consulted***]

We do enforce a prohibition on promotional shelf-talkers as a part of our implementation of the WHO Code in all developing countries, and in any developed countries which have such a prohibition in their national norms. If you do find a valid complaint concerning promotional shelf-talkers, please send it to us so that we can take action. [***Baby Milk Action comment: we have reported many cases of violations to Nestlé, but action is only taken when there is public outcry and pressure from the boycott. Most cases are dismissed by Nestlé using its own selective quoting or misrepresentation of the Code***]

Logo "Protect" on labels of Nestlé infant formulae

Regarding your complaint about the logo "Protect", it is used only on infant formulae that contain specific immunonutrients which have been scientifically proven to activate and strengthen immun defenses during the first year of life. These claimed benefits are scientifically supported and backed by substantial clinical validation. They are thus in accordance with current labeling standards in South Africa. [***Baby Milk Action comment: This is simply untrue. Independent reviews of evidence for ingredients such as prebiotics (the ingredients relating to Nestlé's claim in this formula) find claimed benefits are not supported. The influential Cochrane Library evaluation (2007) concluded: "There is insufficient evidence to recommend the addition of prebiotics to infant feeds for prevention of allergic disease or food reactions". The Department of Health has also made it clear to us and to Nestlé that it views the claims as non-compliant with South African legislation***]

We thank you for your attention to the foregoing.

Yours sincerely,

Thien Luong Van My
Manager Policy Application & Management
Nestlé Nutrition



Baby Milk Action wrote to Mr. Paul Bulcke, at that time Chief Executive Officer designate, asking him to investigate the case as the response to our letter to then CEO, Mr. Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, was inadequate.

We received the following reply from Nestlé, dated 24 April 2008.

Comments from Baby Milk Action appear [****like this****].



Dear Ms. Rundall and Mr. Brady,

Your letter of April 9th which was faxedd to Mr. Paul Bulcke has been sent on to me for reply.

[***Comments regarding Nestlé formula policy ommitted***]

Regarding specific issues you bring up in your letter.

1. South Africa Shelf-Talkers. As I replied to you in my letter of March 28th, The South Africa Advertising Standards Authority rejected the complaint lodged by a competitor against Nestlé (not by the South African health authorities). Attached is their formal rejection of the complaint. [***Baby Milk Action comment: The ASA ruling was not attached, requiring a third letter. It was not just 'a competitor' complaining, but the Infant Feeding Association, the industry as a whole. The fact that it failed to do so through the self-regulatory ASA, shows how Nestlé drives down standards, forcing other companies to compete on its terms. We didn't suggest that the authorities had made the complaint to the ASA, but did ask Nestlé to explain why it had ignored the Department of Health position that shelf-talkers are not permitted. Nestlé ignored this request***]

You will notice that the decision states:

"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."

[***Baby Milk Action comment: The full text, obtained after a further request, is available here. 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 sugest a 'new' formula, offering to 'protect', was on the market.***]

We expect that you will correct the information you have distributed on this issue, and post the decision of the South African Advertising Standards Authority on the Baby Milk Action website. [***Baby Milk Action comment: the ruling was not attached and Nestlé finally sent it on 6 May. We highlighted it in our press release about demonstrations at Nestlé (UK) HQ shortly afterwards, posted it to this website and specifically wrote to the Buxton Advertiser, which had published letters from us and Tom Levitt MP, who had defended Nestlé***]


3. Labelling in South Africa. Regarding Nestlé infant formula labels, they are completely in compliance with existing food labelling regulations. There are discussions underway with the South African authorities concerning certain aspects of future infant formula labelling, and we are an active participant in those discussions. [***Baby Milk Action comment: the Department of Health has told Nestlé it views current labels as non-compliant, as quoted above***].

[***text on other issues ommitted***]

Yours sincerely,

Thien Luong Van My
Manager Policy Application & Management
Nestlé Nutrition


So, in conclusion, Nestlé defends a practice that is criticised by the Department of Health and its competitors (the industry association). In so doing it puts its own profits before health and drives down standards of the whole industry sector. Competitors may now feel they have to produce products with 'new' labels and promote them in supermarkets.

Labels, according to the Department of Health, breach national laws, but Nestlé refuses to change them.

There is every expectation it will continue such practices, unless the regulations that Baby Milk Action and supporters campaigned for as part of this campaign are brought in without being weakened.