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Nestlé enters UK baby milk market with dangerous claims

2 August 2002

Nine leading health and consumer organisations (note 1) have written to the Minister for Public Health, Hazel Blears, to challenge the legality of new misleading claims being made by the Swiss food giant Nestlé (note 2). The claims are being made on the labels of Nestlé’s Nan HA Hypoallergenic infant formula and follow on formula which are being introduced into the £370 million UK market in August. The health groups are calling on the Department of Health to take steps to stop the marketing of the products in the UK.

The health organisations argue that the terms HA and Hypoallergenic will not be understood by the public and that British mothers will be misled into thinking that the milks will not cause allergies and may even prevent them. This happened in 1988 when Nestlé (Carnation) used ‘hypoallergenic’ claims in the USA. Several babies suffered from anaphylactic shock as a result, prompting an investigation by nine US States and the US Food and Drug Administration. Nestlé/Carnation was forced to drop the claims and was accused of "Misleading, deceptive and unfair" practices which violated New York consumer protection laws. In his summing up, Attorney General Robert Abrams referred to Nestlé/Carnation’s "eagerness to break into the lucrative US infant formula market" and said that "Those babies who had severe reactions to Carnation Good Start have paid a high price for the company's irresponsible conduct."

Earlier this year questions about the safety of Nestlé milks arose when a 5-day-old Belgian baby died after being fed Nestlé formula contaminated with a bacteria, Enterobacter Sakazakii (see IBFAN press release 22nd March 2002). The US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to health workers in April stressing that infant formula is not sterile and noted that 14% of the tins of formula tested in one investigation contained this bacteria, calling into question the safety of all milks.

Nestlé first tried to enter the baby food market in the UK in 1999 with its Junior Range of infant foods, which were promoted with a blue bear logo familiar in developing countries where Nestlé's aggressive marketing practices contribute to so much death and suffering (reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save 1.5 million infant lives around the world every year, according to UNICEF). The Junior Range was criticised by health experts as the fruit bar contains more sugar than a kit-kat and a snack includes a known allergen - sesame seeds. After first attempting to add warnings with stick on labels, Nestlé withdrew the products (see report in Update 26 and Boycott News 27).

Patti Rundall, OBE, of Baby Milk Action says:

“The UK Government professes to be concerned about misleading claims and about the low levels of breastfeeding. It should take speedy action now to protect UK infants from these claims and from all commercial promotion of artificial feeding. Nestlé in particular has an appalling record on infant feeding marketing so it does not surprise me that they dare use tactics that are known to be so dangerous. Infant health seems to mean very little to this company.”

For more information call Patti Rundall : 01223 464420 or 07786 523493
Baby Milk Action, 23 St Andrew's Street, Cambridge, CB2 3AX, UK
Tel: +44 1223 464420, Fax: +44 1223 464417
General office email:

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Health Groups who have written to the Minister are: Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, Association of Radical Midwives, Baby Milk Action, Breastfeeding Network, Food Commission, La Leche League, Midwives Information and Resource Service, National Childbirth Trust and UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative.

  2. Nestlé is the subject of a boycott of its products in 20 countries because of its unethical promotion of breastmilk substitutes and the harm this causes to breastfeeding and infant and maternal health. The strongest protest is in the UK, where the boycott is supported by over 90 church, health and consumer groups, over 100 businesses, 80 student unions 17 local authorities, 12 trade unions, 51 politicians and political parties, and numerous celebrities such as Emma Thompson, Julie Walters and Victoria Wood.

  3. Babies who are not breastfed and are allergic to cows milks may require specialised formulas, which are already available in the UK.

  4. Nestlé’s Hypoallergenic claims raise the stakes in a market which is already flooded with semi-medical and largely unsubstantiated promotional claims for milks which play on parents worries and promise to solve all manner of feeding problems. For example, the Dutch company Numico markets Infatrini as a ‘high energy milk’ and Omneo Comfort to promote ‘comfortable digestion.’ Enfamil by the US company Mead Johnson, claims to be ‘effective for reflux’ while Nutramigen claims to reduce the number of hours which your baby will cry. The US Company Wyeth, markets SMA LF which claims to "help reduce crying in colicky babies" and SMA Staydown which claims that it ‘increases sleep time’ ‘reduces crying time’ and is ‘gentle and digestible.’ All these claims mislead and undermine exclusive breastfeeding which is the normal and optimal way to feed an infant. Breastmilk is not on sale or promoted in glossy brochures. Instead of promoting the benefits of breastmilk substitutes, labels should outline the health risks of artificial feeding, for example the higher incidence of gastro-enteritis, otitis media, atopic disease, etc. Breastfeeding has also been shown to protect against breast cancer.

  5. Nestlé invests large sums around the world in targeting health workers with gifts, sponsorship and conferences (see the monitoring reports produced by the International Baby Food Action Network). In the UK, for example, health workers subscribing to the magazine Professional Care of Mother & Child prior to the Junior Range launch received the "excellent news" that Nestlé was offering to fund the subscriptions of a "substantial number" of healthcare professionals (see Boycott News 24).
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