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UK Government called on to stand up to the EU Commission and protect infants from baby food company marketing

Event report 23 May 2006.

Lynne Jones (second left) was joined by representatives of the National Childbirth Trust, Save the Children and Baby Milk Action to call on the UK Government to implement requirements for the marketing of baby foods that were adopted by the World Health Assembly (WHA) 25 years ago this week.

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The Government has still not done so, despite a report in 2003 from the United Nations Commission on the Rights of the Child saying it should. The WHA adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes on 21 May 1981 and at its meeting in Geneva this week will be reviewing the progress of governments in implementing the Code and subsequent, relevant Resolutions. Dr. Jones is gathering signatures from MPs for Early Day Motion 2157.

Baby food companies in the UK aggressively promote formula in mass media campaigns, sometimes claiming it helps to prevent infection and boost infant intelligence (click here for monitoring results from the Baby Feeding Law Group).

Companies target mothers with baby clubs and ‘carelines’. Supermarkets repeatedly offer money off promotions and extra points. All are violations of the Code and Resolutions. In its white paper, Choosing Health, the Government gave an undertaking to strengthen legislation and pursue changes in the EU Directive on Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula. These efforts appear to have failed and, unless the UK and other Member States take action, the Directive the European Commission is due to sign off on 26 June will legitimise many of the types of violations of the International Code and Resolutions found in the UK. At the meeting on 23 May, Baby Milk Action will present examples of violations gathered during and in the lead-up to National Breastfeeding Awareness Week (14-20 May).

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, who coordinates a monitoring project on behalf of the Baby Feeding Law Group (a coalition of 15 UK health worker bodies, including the National Childbirth Trust, Royal College of Midwives and UNICEF UK), said:

“The UK has breastfeeding rates amongst the lowest in the world. Recent modest increases in breastfeeding initiation rates to 76% belie the fact that mothers rapidly stop breastfeeding, the majority claiming they had wished to breastfeed for longer. Baby food companies exploit mothers’ anxieties about not having enough milk or babies being hungry to push their products. The International Code and Resolutions protect a mother’s right to independent information and should stop aggressive marketing. It is time the Government stood up to Brussels and protected British babies by introducing these measures in law. 25 years has been far too long a wait already.”

Baby Milk Action has documented how enforcement authorities such as the Advertising Standards Authority and Ofcom claim their hands are tied due to lack of strong and clear legislation in the UK. Companies know they can promote their products and brand names on television, in newspapers and magazines, on bus shelters and in leisure centres and health facilities with impunity if they exploit loopholes in the law.

In 2005 UNICEF UK and the National Childbirth Trust released the results of a MORI poll that showed 60% of mothers claimed to have seen infant formula advertising and a third said it had idealized artificial infant feeding.

For further information contact: Mike Brady, 07986 736179

Early Day Motion 2157

Tabled by Dr. Lynne Jones MP, Birmingham Selly Oak.


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.

Left to right

Rosie Dodds (NCT)
Mike Brady (Baby Milk Action)
Lynne Jones MP
Patti Rundall (Baby Milk Action)
Belinda Phipps (CEO - NCT)
Patricia Wise (Baby Milk Action/NCT)
Arabella Duffield (Save the Children)
Sharon (NCT)
Janet Singh (ICH student)

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