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Brussels hands babies to the baby milk pushers – exploiting parents fears

Press release 19 May 2006.

As the UK government, health bodies and mother support groups celebrate National Breastfeeding Awareness Week (14-20 May) and new statistics on breastfeeding rates [1] the European Commission in Brussels is pushing forward with proposals that will undermine  all the attempts being made to increase breastfeeding rates in the UK. If approved at the next Brussels meeting on 26th June,  the new Directive will legitimise marketing practices which will boost the market for breastmilk substitutes in the EU and  more seriously, will undermine infant health in developing countries, where breastfeeding is lifeline for millions of infants. [2]

Baby Milk Action and leading health NGOs  are calling on the UK and other Member States to vote against the proposals when they are discussed in Brussels in June and to strengthen its demand that the Commission brings the Directive into line with the a Code of Marketing adopted by  the World Health Assembly  25 years ago and strengthened by subsequent resolutions.

An Early Day Motion will be presented at the  House of Commons on Tuesday  23rd May,   11.30-12.30, hosted by Lynne Jones MP.  [3]

Scientific evidence has consistently demonstrated that artificial infant feeding increases mortality rates, increases rates for illnesses such as infectious, chronic and auto-immune diseases, offers less than optimal development  and growth and lowers cognitive and visual development.  Epidemiological  evidence - 17 of the 21 studies – strongly suggests that breastfeeding represents an ideal  window of opportunity for the prevention of overweight and obesity. [4] Artificially fed infants consume 30,000 more calories than breastfed infants by 8 months of age - equivalent to 120 Mars bars - 4 a week ! [5]

NGOs and Member States are especially concerned about the Commission's refusal to allow the UK to extend its limited ban of promotion to Follow-on formulae and to remove the health and nutrition claims contained in its proposals.    Health and nutrition claims  on breastmilk substitutes  imply a health advantage and are invariably mislead parents.  By making comparisons with breastfeeding companies imply equivalence and exploit parents desire to have a more intelligent  and healthier child.  The NCT/UNICEF Mori Poll  in August 2005 showed that  30% of mothers had received the impression that formula was ‘as good as' or ‘better'  than breastfeeding. [6] The claims are based on industry funded science and idealise the product,  even though else where in the text  of the Directive this is not permitted.

The Commission's advisory body – the Scientific Committee for Food in its report on the Composition of Infant formula [7]recommended the removal of the all existing nutrition claims apart from one claim  (lactose free) – and in its deliberately  avoided the use of the word CLAIM .  The SCF recommended instead NUTRITION LABELLING for ingredients such as  long-chain fatty acids.  The Commission seems to have ignored this advice.

One particularly controversial claim relates to a   “reduction of risk of allergy to milk proteins.” The SCF Committee concluded that was “no scientific foundation to base a claim that a  formula induces “reduction of risk of allergy to milk proteins” or is “hypoallergenic”  on a content of immunoreactive protein of less than 1% of nitrogen-containing substances, as is presently the case.” On Friday 12th May 2006 the Food and Drug Administration in the USA rejected an attempt by Nestle USA to carry a reduced risk to allergy claim on its infant formulas  saying there was no credible evidence to support the company's claim. [8] ‘Hypoallergenic' claims have not been permitted on infant formula labels since 1989 when nine US authorities took legal action to stop Nestle Carnation making these claims. Several infants had suffered anaphylactic shock after being fed Nestlé formula which had been advertised as  ‘hypoallergenic.' Earlier this year Canadian Television carried an exposé on three consecutive nights about the falsified research of Canadian scientist, Dr Ranjit Chandra, which had been used by Nestlé and other companies to support their claims. [9]  

The UK Government provided a dossier of evidence ( including the NCT/UNICEF survey ) to the Commission showing that the promotion of  breastmilk substitutes (including follow on milks) undermines infant health and misleads parents. [10]  The Commission has so far refused the UK's plea to include a specific provision in the Directive allowing Member States to ban follow-on formula promotion and to support their efforts to implement the UN requirements. [11]

IBFAN members from 26 countries have written to Commissioner Kyprianou, calling on him to intervene and to ensure that the EU's aim to become the most competetive economy in the world by 2012, does not take precedence over the protection of health, the environment and human rights.  NGOs ask him to ensure that the EC Directive enables and empowers Member States to fulfill their obligations to protect infant health. 400 participants attending the 5th European VELB Conference Breastfeeding & Lactation in Maastricht have also written to Commissioner Kyprianou and will be sending to Health Ministries throughout Europe. [12]

The calls to ban the promotion of breastmilk substitutes have been supported by NGOs  from the USA and Europe attending the  EU/US Conference, Good practices: Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health in Brussels  on 12th May 2006  The NGOs issued a statement [13] setting out their main concerns:

  • warning of the risks of NGO/Business partnerships,
  • calling for a ban all promotion of breastmilk substitutes,
  • calling  for a moratorium on junk food promotion  to children,  
  • calling  for all commercial activity by companies marketing junk food to cease in schools, including educational materials.
If the UK government does not maintain a strong stand and vote against the proposals in June, Baby Milk Action will have no option but to denounce this to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child when it comes to review progress in implementing the recommendations of its 2003 report.

[1] Infant Feeding Survey 2005: Early Results [NS] The breastfeeding initiation rate for the UK was 76 per cent in 2005. The rates for the four countries of the UK were 78 per cent in England, 70 per cent in Scotland, 67 per cent in Wales and 63 per cent in Northern Ireland.
[2] Violations of the International Code and Resolutions by companies in the UK

[3] Early Day Motion No 2157: 25th ANNIVERSARY OF THE ADOPTION OF THE INTERNATIONAL CODE OF MARKETING OF BREASTMILK SUBSTITUTES BY THE WORLD HEALTH ASSEMBLY  “ That this House celebrates the 25 anniversary of the adoption of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes by the World Health Assembly;  recognises the Code and subsequent, relevant Resolutions as essential tools for protecting infant health and ensuring parents, carers and health workers receive information on infant feeding free from commercial pressure; congratulates those governments that have implemented the Code and Resolutions in legislation; notes with concern that despite supporting the Code, Resolutions and the Assembly's Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding at international meetings and being called on by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2003 to implement the Code, the UK Government has still not done so; and therefore calls on the Government to introduce legislation, policies and guidelines for enforcement authorities, fully in line with Code and Resolutions, as soon as possible and to work to bring relevant EU Directives and other international measures into line.”

[4] Breastfeeding and Obesity . Once a child becomes obese, it is quite likely that s/he will remain obese as an adult.  Breastmilk could influence the development of a taste receptors profile encouraging a preference for lower energy diets later on in life.  In April 2006 WHO published new growth standards, the result of a seven-year WHO Multicentre Growth Reference Study of 8,440 children in 6 countries. The study showed that breastfeeding should be the biological  “norm” and the breastfed infant the standard for measuring healthy growth. Sound early nutrition seems to be more influential in child development than genetics or ethnic origin.
The  USA Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified decreased television viewing and breastfeeding promotion as the only two potential, cost-effective interventions that can be put into place immediately to deal with the childhood obesity epidemic.. Dietz  WH. Breastfeeding may help prevent childhood overweight. JAMA. 2001; 285:2506.
[5] Human Lactation 1999Riordan and Aerbach Breastfeeding & Human Lactation Jones and Bartlett 1999
[7]] Report of the Scientific Committee for Food on the Revisions of Essential requirements of Infant formulae and Follow-on Formulae. SCF/CS/NUT/IF/65 Final. 19th May 2003.
FDA rejects Nestle bid on health claim, Associated Press, Seattle Post, May 12, 2006 “ Nestle, in the 2005 petition filed with the FDA, sought permission to claim that feeding an infant 100 percent whey-protein partially hydrolyzed formulas may reduce the risk of common food allergy symptoms, particularly skin rashes, when substituted for formulas made from whole-protein cow's milk.”
[11] Follow-on formulas :  are the necessary and should they be promoted ?  Baby feeding Law Group briefing. 2004.[9]
[11] The UK Government's response to the European Commission's Green Paper Promoting Healthy Diets and Physical Activity: a European dimension for the prevention of overweight, obesity and chronic diseases , states: “The UK Government continues to recommend and promote breastfeeding as the best nutrition for infants in the first six months.  The Commission can play an important role in supporting this approach by endorsing policies aimed at improving exclusive breastfeeding and duration on an EU-wide basis, in accordance with the “Blueprint for Action” and the WHO Global Strategy on infant and Young Child Feeding…..A national Healthy Start scheme is currently being phased in ……Core elements of the scheme include promotion of breastfeeding…..the Commission should aim to encourage the adoption of the essential elements of early years' nutrition across the EU and look at ways to support national actions.
[12] The Baby Feeding Law Group has written  letters to the Secretary of States for Education and Health,  Ruth Kelly and Patricia Hewitt, about the implications of business sponsorship in schools  and health care facilities on infant and young child health. (10 Feb 2006) The BFLG calls for the Secretaries of State to require that all schools and health care facilities adopt guidelines incorporating the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent relevant WHA resolutions, so ensuring that baby feeding companies are prevented from providing education materials and other services .
Consensus Statement from US and EU citizens groups on marketing of foods to children

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