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Nestlé blocks publication of ASA report on its ethical claims.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has pulled a report on a Nestlé advertisement from its monthly publication at the eleventh hour following an appeal from Nestlé. The case, which is already one of the longest ever considered by the ASA, looks set to move into its third year. The report relates to Nestlé's claims about its marketing of baby milk in developing countries. The publication of the report would have been particularly significant at this time as the World Health Organisation (WHO) is currently focusing on the marketing of baby foods. WHO estimates that reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save the lives of 1.5 million infants around the world every year.

Following discussion with the ASA, Baby Milk Action began publicising the planned publication date of the ASA report (10th February 1999) and distributed an embargoed press release before Nestlé appealed. It is a standard ASA requirement that the full report is included with any press release about an adjudication to ensure that the adjudication is not presented in a selective or out-of-context manner and this was done. The ASA is now unable to comment in detail on the Nestlé case until Nestlé's appeal has been dealt with.

The report related to a 1996 advertisement in which Nestlé made claims about its baby milk marketing policies and practices. Baby Milk Action complained and presented evidence of Nestlé's widespread violations of the international marketing code for these products (the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 and subsequent, relevant Resolutions). The ASA examined submissions from Baby Milk Action and Nestlé for nearly two years before ruling on the case.

Nestlé waited for almost two weeks after it was sent a copy of the report before notifying the ASA that it would appeal. Baby Milk Action had already put out a press release with the report following discussion with the ASA. This was clearly labelled so that the story would not be reported until 10th February 1999, the ASA's original publication date. The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) has been distributing the press release internationally. The ASA reacted to Nestlé's appeal by pulling the report from its February publication. This press release has been prepared following discussions with the ASA to ensure that Baby Milk Action's earlier press release is correctly updated. It is not certain that an appeal will be heard - the ASA Chairman, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, has to make a decision. This could move the case into its third year. Meanwhile Nestlé is able to continue making its claims in publications, letters and meetings.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator for Baby Milk Action, said: "We first received a draft ruling on our complaints from the ASA in December 1997, nine months after we complained. Nestlé's challenges delayed the case progressing to the ASA Council for a further year. The Council finally made its ruling in January 1999. How long will Nestlé's appeal keep it from the public? The ASA is implementing a voluntary advertising code. If advertising in the UK was regulated by the law courts I do not believe an appeal would stop a ruling from being reported."

To clarify the situation for those expecting the report to be published on 10th February, Baby Milk Action requested a statement from the ASA. The ASA sent a letter. Contact Baby Milk Action (Tel: +44 (0) 1223 464420) or the ASA's External Affairs Manager, Chris Reed (Tel: +44 (0) 171 436 1698) for further details.

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