900 international development agencies have called on the European Commission to amend a recently adopted Directive on the marketing of infant formula and to ensure that all EU policies on infant feeding are consistent with international health standards.
Meeting in Brussels on Saturday 18 April, the members of the EU-NGDO Liaison Committee passed a Resolution which expressed their concern that the new Directive could undermine world-wide efforts to protect breastfeeding and infant health.
The new Directive makes no reference to an international marketing code which was adopted at the World Health Assembly in 1981 with the support of all EU member states, and which applies to all breast milk substitutes. In contrast, the new Directive suggests that companies can ignore its provisions when marketing products for 'special purposes.'
Mike Aaronson, Director General of Save the Children Fund UK and President of the EU-NGDO Liaison Committee, emphasised the need for the EU to consider the global implications of its policies:
"It was only after a lengthy debate with international development agencies, consumers and MEPs in the 1980s that the Commission agreed to incorporate many of the provisions of the International Code into two EU directives on baby foods.
It is disappointing that the Commission has failed to consult consumer and development agencies adequately on this new Directive. The Commission was well aware of the need for careful marketing of these products, yet it slipped this proposal through as a "non-controversial" item. This Directive could have far-reaching effects on infant health world-wide and Save the Children is extremely concerned."
Glenys Kinnock, MEP and Vice President of the ACP-EU Joint Assembly says:
"The European Union needs to proceed with caution when legislation related to infant feeding is under consideration. I have been concerned for some time about the dangers inherent in implementing a measure which could result in the promotion of foods which may be substituted for breast feeding.
Experience teaches me that we should not relax our vigilance and that it is all too easy to undermine the policies which protect the health and well being of infants, particularly in the developing world. Loopholes are seen as fair game and will be abused."
The World Health Organisation estimates that 1.5 million infants die each year because they are not breastfed. Despite this, baby food companies, many based in Europe, continue to market their products in ways that undermine breastfeeding. Concern about these practices gave rise to the International Code. Over half the world's population now live in countries where the major provisions of the International Code and the subsequent resolutions are law. However, widespread violations continue.
In many developing countries, companies are actively lobbying governments to weaken regulations on baby foods, and to ignore the stringent and wide-ranging provisions of the International Code. International development agencies have no doubt that the new EU Directive will be used by baby food companies as a model for their lobby.
Ref: Commission Directive 1999/21/EC of 25 March 1998 on Dietary Foods for Special Medical Purposes
Notes to Editors:
- The need for greater transparency
The Commission was advised on this new Directive, and on previous baby food legislation, by the Scientific Committee for Food and the Standing Committee on Foodstuffs. The Standing Committee is composed of civil servants from Member States and its minutes are secret. In 1997 Glenys Kinnock asked a question in the European Parliament regarding the links between one member of the Scientific Committee and the baby food industry and the need for greater transparency.
- Some examples of promotion of specialised formulas:
- In Pakistan the baby food industry is putting intense pressure on the Government to weaken proposed legislation. The report Feeding Fiasco, pushing commercial infant foods in Pakistan, by the Network Association for the Rational Use of Drugs, published in March 1998, explains how companies have created a new market for 'specialised formulas'
"The companies... fearlessly indulge in all of their favourite marketing practices. [they] freely distribute samples of these formulas, many of them using special reduced size packs as samples."
The report cites promotional material which diagnoses "'lactose load-exceeding-lactase production' as the underlying causes of loose stools, nappy rashes, diarrhoea, restlessness and general fussiness without providing any scientific evidence." And recommends a specialised formula for all these symptoms. The report continues: "With few laboratory facilities to diagnose lactose intolerance, most doctors suspect it in all babies whose mothers complain of restlessness or crying and prescribe lactose free formulas."
- The marketing policy of the Swiss-based company, Nestlé, which has approximately 40% of the global market, says "Nestlé does not donate free infant formula for use by healthy new-born babies..." (emphasis added)
- Europe In Spain companies give free samples of specialised formulas to hospitals. In the UK companies give free supplies of breastmilk fortifiers to hospitals and advertise specialised formulas to doctors with unsubstantiated claims and without mentioning the superiority of breastfeeding.
For further information contact: Patti Rundall, Baby Milk Action, 23 St Andrew's St, Cambridge, CB2 3AX Tel: + 44 1223 464420 Fax:+ 44 1223 464417