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How the UK government responded to the campaign to protect infant health at Codex

This page was last updated on 20 December 2001.

See the action sheet for full details. Baby Milk Action's suggested letter to the UK and other governments was as follows:

I am writing with an urgent request regarding the forthcoming Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (Berlin, 26th-30th November).

One of the issues to be discussed is the labelling of complementary foods.

For many years there has been a fierce industry lobby against the World Health Assembly recommendation that complementary feeding should be fostered from about 6 months of age (WHA Resolution 47.5 adopted in 1994). The industry has been pushing to be allowed to label and promote complementary foods for use from 4 months of age.

This year, a WHO expert consultation reviewed over 3,000 research studies and concluded that reduction of infectious disease morbidity and reduction in mortality are the most important potential advantages of exclusive breastfeeding for six months, especially the reduction of gastrointestinal infections.

A few months later a landmark World Health Assembly Resolution 54.2 was adopted by consensus which called for the protection of exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

The World Health Assembly recognised that some mothers may wish or be well-advised to use complementary foods before 6 months of age but decided that a global public health policy of '6 months' would not prevent health workers from advising mothers on an case by case basis to introduce foods earlier.

Already over 60 countries have policies which promote exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months. These policies might well be threatened if a global labelling standard of 4 months were to be adopted at Codex.

As the pressure to expand the baby food market continues, it is vital that the sovereign right of Governments to implement the WHA Resolutions is protected, and that trade rules do not undermine health.

Can you confirm that the Government will be supporting the '6 month' recommendation of Resolution 54.2 at the forthcoming Codex meeting and will be opposing any industry lobby attempting to undermine it?

UK Government response

The following response was sent by the Department of Health to a campaigner.

While the UK Government's support for Resolution 54.2 is welcome, the issues have still not been resolved at Codex. See a report on the November 2001 Codex meeting in Update 30.

We will alert campaigners with appropriate action to take in the run-up to the next Codex meeting.


Thank you for your letter of 1 November to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry regarding discussions scheduled for the forthcoming meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary purposes. Your
letter has been forwarded to me for reply.

The Government takes very seriously its responsibility to protect infant health and fully supports the promotion of breastfeeding, which is accepted as the best form of nutrition for infants for the first six months of life. We supported the World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution 54.2 on Infant and Child Nutrition to strengthen activities and develop new approaches to protect, promote and support exclusive breast-feeding for six months. We will also be supporting measures to achieve this at the Codex meeting, including the appropriate labelling of complementary foods.

We currently have a commitment in the NHS Plan for "increased support for breastfeeding" and are in the third year of the Infant Feeding Initiative. The initiative was launched to improve health inequalities with the aim to increase the incidence and duration of breastfeeding amongst those groups of the population where breastfeeding rates are the lowest. In light of the WHA resolution, the Department is also currently considering its policy on infant feeding.

I hope this goes some way to reassure you of the Government’s commitment protect and promote infant health.

Yours sincerely

Dr Sheela Reddy
Principal Nutritionist
Department of Health