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Appearance of Minister for Children, Margaret Hodge MP, at Wyeth/IPPR conference causes storm

15 September 2003

Health campaigners have voiced their concerns over Margaret Hodge's decision to speak on the Government's Green Paper, 'Children at Risk', at a Wyeth/IPPR Conference in London tomorrow. Mother support groups, National Childbirth Trust and the Breastfeeding Network, have apparently advised their members to stay away. We understand that Mark Jones, director of CPHVA (Community Practioners and Health Visitors Assocation) was listed as a speaker, and is not going to attend.

Wyeth is second only to Nestlé for the scale of its violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly. Wyeth's aggressive marketing contributes to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants around the world (see the company profile in the Breaking the Rules monitoring report). According to the World Health Organisation, 1.5 million infants die around the world every year because they are not breastfed (see refs).

Wyeth has been censured by the Advertising Standards Authority in South Africa and was recently convicted of criminally advertising infant formula to the general public in the UK, a "deliberate and cynical breach of the regulations", targetting a "vulnerable section of our society" according to the judge (seeUpdate 33). In the course of that trial, Wyeth attempted to overturn the UK law intended to protect infant health.

An IPPR report, "An equal start" sponsored by baby food companies Wyeth and Nutricia, produced for tomorrow's conference, notes "despite considerable efforts to encourage breastfeeding in the UK, rates have remained static for the past 20 years". The report makes no comment on the aggressive marketing of the baby food companies nor the need for the Government to strengthen marketing regulations in the UK to bring them into line with international standards. Last year the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, called on the Government to take action to ban all promotion of breastmilk substitutes. This is not mentioned in the report (see Update 32).

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:

"Wyeth is not fit to be associated with a conference on 'children at risk' given the systematic way in which it puts children at risk around the world by aggressively marketing its baby foods. It is disturbing that Margaret Hodge should be discussing a Government Green Paper at a Conference linked to a company which so recently attempted to over turn UK legislation intended to protect infant health. We regret that IPPR's choice of partner has created this situation. We did consider mobilising a demonstration at the Conference to draw attention to Wyeth's appalling record. We hope that IPPR will meet with us to discuss the marketing of baby foods, something noticeably lacking from the report it produced with funding from baby food companies Wyeth and Nutricia, and will revise its funding guidelines to avoid such inappropriate sponsors in future."

In 1996, the World Health Assembly adopted Resolution 49.15 which stated:

"Concerned that health institutions and ministries may be subject to subtle pressure to accept, inappropriately, financial or other support for professional training in infant and child health;... URGES Member States to take the following ensure that the financial support for professionals working in infant and young child health does not create conflicts of interest..."

When the UK's Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations were being discussed, many health worker organisations opposed the failure to bring these into line with the World Health Assembly standards. Tony Blair, for the opposition, said at the time:

“That this House is alarmed at the decision taken recently by Health Ministers to put commercial interests before infant health when it refused to ban the advertising of infant formula in the United Kingdom; is aware that such a decision is contrary to all its statements in support of an advertisement ban over the last 13 years, and contradicts also the advice given to it from major health bodies including the British Medical Association, the British Paediatric Association, and the Royal College of Midwives; and calls upon Her Majesty’s Government to rethink its approach instead of simply responding to UK baby milk companies’ promotions.”

Mike Brady said: "We hope the controversy over her appearance at the Wyeth/IPPR conference will prompt the Minister for Children to look closely at the issue of marketing of baby foods and infant health. We look to Margaret Hodge to work to protect infants by bringing UK legislation into line with international standards."

The Baby Feeding Law Group brings together health worker and campaigning organisations to call on the Government to bring the law into line with the International Code and Resolutions (see

For further information contact Mike Brady on 07986 736179 or

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